When news broke early in the week that Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr had invited 25 home-based Eagles for the July 4 international friendly against Mexico, the general mood among football fans was that of mixed feelings. Some critics believed that apparently, the coach had succumbed to the clarion call for the inclusion of home-based players in the mainstream Eagles.
Even at that, some believed Rohr’s rare gesture was an overkill. It’s like saying, “here you got what you have been clamouring for.” But, inviting a wholly home-based squad to face a strong football nation like Mexico was a misstep that was bound to defeat the purpose of a friendly match. It negates the very essence of team building.
Just as people were still wondering what came over Rohr, a man who has never hidden his disdain for home-based players featuring in the national team, to have so generously embraced them for a tough test as the Mexico match, the gaffer shocked Nigerians, even more. He distanced himself from the Mexico engagement by rejecting the team. “There is no way you can beat Mexico with this team,” said the German gaffer, who led his team A to a draw and a defeat by Cameroon in the last FIFA window. Rohr was clearly afraid of another loss, which he said could affect Nigeria’s position in the FIFA rankings. The technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation, Austin Eguavoen has since assumed the position of a stand-in coach with the Super Eagles and he will lead them to face Mexico July 4. He is being assisted by former Flying Eagles coach, Paul Aigbogun.
Is this how Rohr wants to build a national team Nigerians can be proud of? Some critics said Rohr’s latest show is the highest exhibition of cowardice bothered on incompetence? Would Rohr have lasted a day longer, were he in the employ of his native Germany, France or any other country that believes in delivery and accountability. It is difficult to understand what is still keeping Rohr in Nigeria after a six year underwhelming run with the Super Eagles.
“There must be a strong mafia in the football family that is protecting Rohr,” said Patrick Omorodion, of Vanguard Newspapers.
Before the arrival of Gernot Rohr, the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation promised Nigerians a ‘world class coach,’ after the football house fell out with former coach, Sunday Oliseh. Before Oliseh Nigeria had the late Stephen Keshi who in 2013 led the Eagles to AFCON glory in South Africa. Keshi also took Nigeria to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and got to the second round before they were knocked out by a Paul Pogba-inspired France. The hallmark of Keshi’s Eagles was his ability to blend home-based players and their foreign based counterparts. This is what Rohr has failed to do in six years.
After Keshi, the Super Eagles witnessed a drop in form and organisation under Oliseh. His short reign was marred by mutual distrust and acrimony between him and the football house.
Then arrived Gernot Rohr, the current handler who has been with the Super Eagles for almost six years. The Franco-German gaffer has led Nigeria to 43 matches, won about 50 per cent of them, drawn some and lost a few. Rohr’s biggest achievements are the country’s qualification for the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia, where they were knocked out at the group stages and a bronze medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. A very poor record by any means, given Nigeria’s antecedents in both the World Cup and AFCON.
“Qualifying for the AFCON or the World Cup is nothing new to Nigeria. As a nation, we should be aiming at the semi finals of the World Cup because there are other African countries that have attained that threshold,” said former Super Eagles Assistant coach, Sylvanus Okpala.
Ever since he arrived Nigeria, the German is yet to mold a team he could be sure of winning anything. At various times during media interviews, Rohr has always told Nigerians not to expect much from their national team. He would point at Nigeria’s rankings both in Africa and the world. He is also quick to talk about the quality and calibre of Nigerian players, their level of experience, the clubs they play for, etc, as excuses for the team which have failed to lift their game beyond mediocrity, since he took over.
In a recent interview with Collin Udoh of ESPN Soccernet, Rohr was quoted as saying the Super Eagles would not get to the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup. His reason? Absurd, illogical and unbecoming of a national team coach. The story reads, “His(Rohr’s) major concern was that while players like Paul Onuachu, winner, Belgium’s player of the Year, who also carted home the Golden Boot award, as well as the Ebony award reserved for the best African Player in Belgium each season, Kelechi Iheanacho, whose goals took Leicester City to FA Cup glory, Simmy Nwankwo, highest goal scorer for his relegated Serie A club, Crotone among others were banging in goals, the clubs they play for are not top tier”.
He said, “The day we have our players in bigger clubs, then we can start talking of the Eagles reaching the semi finals of the World Cup,”.
He observed that countries like Senegal, Egypt among others had better chances of surpassing Nigeria at the World Cup because their players like Sadio Mane, Eduardo Mendi, Mohammed Salah, among others were in bigger clubs.
Rohr’s statement has been condemned in unequivocal terms by Nigerians who view it as unfortunate, ill-informed and unbecoming of a coach. His critics were of the opinion that utterances were capable of killing the morale of his players.
Sylvanus Okpala, who, along with late Stephen Keshi won the Nations Cup in South Africa, faulted Rohr over the statement, insisting, however, that the coach must have been quoted out of context.
“It’s not good for the team, but what I don’t know is if he actually said so.”
Okpala said, “if he actually said so, it’s not good for the team. Although having players in big clubs can play a role in the quality of the team, it does not guarantee success. Remember France in 2002 were on top of world football as defending champions of the World Cup. Senegal, with a bunch of unknown players, shocked them and were knocked out at the group stage and Senegal went ahead to the quarter finals.
He continued, “Argentina with their biggest stars like late icon, Diego Maradona, Claudio Cannigia, Jorge Burruchaga, Gustavo Dezotti, Sergio Goycochea among others at Italia ’90 were handed a shocking defeat by Cameroon with players from lower leagues in France and their domestic league,” Okpala went on and on supporting his stand with facts that rubbished Rohr’s assertion.
“Having players in big clubs can determine how far the team can go, depending on what the players are up to. My advice to Rohr is that he has to find a suitable strategy. And this strategy will depend on the type of players you have in your team.
“In 1994 Nigeria went to the World Cup with a team made up of average players. Some were not regulars at their clubs, Uche Okechukwu was playing in Denmark, Chidi Nwanu was in Belgium, Mike Emenalo was playing in Israel, Eguavoen among others were all in small teams. Yekini was at Vitoria Setubal. We never had the best legs. It was after the World Cup that people started saying they were the best team ever from Nigeria. I still think no coach would say what has been attributed to Rohr. But if he said it, then it is unfortunate.”
Okpala noted that Nigeria has more seasoned players now than ever before. “We now have players in Serie A, La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga in Belgium and in France. We have never had it so good. If you pitch Iheanacho of this season against Sadio Mane of this season, Iheanacho would have more votes than Mane. Mine is that, I did not expect a coach of his status to say what he said.
My advice is that he has to calm down, map out a strategy for his team based on the abilities of each player.”
Rabiu Abdu, an official of the National Schools Sports Federation said, “technically Rohr got it all wrong. When I was a student at the National Institute for Sports, one of my lecturers told how to motivate your players for better performance. Don’t discourage them, try to look for loopholes in the team and effect corrections. Attend to all their needs and they will surprise you. With good technical guidance and good motivation, the Eagles can go any length.
“Recall during the time of Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala and others, they performed very well and they were all home-based. And they could face any team in the world. Even during the Jay Jay Okocha set, we had a lot of home-based. The home-based can perform. Rohr should try them.”
Former Nigeria international, Felix Owolabi’s reaction was anything but excitement. “What do you want me to say,” began Owolabi, who sounded evidently frustrated. “Is the Nigeria Football Federation not seeing what some of us have been talking about Rohr, long before his contract was renewed?
“You can’t talk about Rohr without talking about the NFF.” He said.
”In our time, Nigeria had a pattern and our team was very strong. Today, Nigeria cannot score one goal in two matches? What a shame.”
He said the sporting media was not doing enough to expose the inadequacies of the German tactician. “Investigate and write about him. How has he handled the national team since his arrival here? I have said enough on Rohr and I hate repeating myself.”
Chairman of Pillars Football Club of Kano Alhaji Suraju Shehu Yahaya was venomous in his outpourings against the Eagles coach on Nigeria’s chances at the World Cup. “I think the coach is talking foolishly. Whose responsibility is it to take the team to greater heights?” he asked angrily. The Pillars’ boss asked, “if we don’t get to the knockout stages, whose fault? He is in a better position to make them improve because that is his job. If not, why is he here?”
He observed that Rohr had destroyed the fabrics of Nigerian football by continuously underrating the home-based players in preference for those plying their trades abroad.. “He has to build the national team from the grassroots. You can’t slam the door against home-based players while, at the same time, we see new faces in the team in every match, coming from all manner of leagues in the name of playing abroad.”
He said experience had shown that the best national teams to have emerged in Nigeria were built around home-based players. The national team, he reckoned, should be built from the grassroots. “You don’t build a national team from abroad. You start from home and gradually inject the foreign based into the team to balance and stabilise the squad,” Alhaji Yahaya said.
Dr Owolabi agreed with him, when he said, “the destiny of any country’s football rests in the domestic league.” The former Nigeria international said “if you don’t improve the domestic league there is no way you can get any responsible player who will put on that green-white-green jersey and want to fight for his fatherland, like it was in our days. Right now, there is no foreign Super Eagles player who would want to put his life in the line for the sake of Nigeria.”
Yahaya said, “I expected Rohr to have gone to Austria with our home-based players and maybe with a few foreign based players. This would have been a very good opportunity to give them the desired exposure. We all saw what Westerhof and Bonfrere did in four years and Rohr has been here for six years. Westerhof won the AFCON and qualified Nigeria for the World Cup in 1994, got to the second round and lost to Italy. Bonfrere won the Olympics in 1996. Which clubs were our players playing for? Rohr is not talking like a coach. You give someone a job and he is telling you he lacks the ability to take you to where you want and you are there, looking at him? Rohr does not have any plan for Nigerian football.”
He said Nigeria has good coaches but they are being ignored in preference for foreign coaches. “Unfortunately, those who take decisions on recruitment of coaches are not qualified to be there.”
Has Rohr succeeded at his assignment so far? Alhaji Yahaya said, “No, no. He has failed. After six years with the team, he is still building and experimenting? He has failed. For the six years what has he done? I doubt if he is going to be a success for Nigeria.”
Despite all this, the German is confident nothing can happen to him before the expiration of his contract. Top officials are again grumbling about the competence of Gernot Rohr, but his employers do not have the cash or the will power to do away with him before the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in September.
A top official at the football house told SCORENigeria: “This man just doesn’t know anything.
“He’s just sitting down and collecting big money.”
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