Definitely, it has been a near perfect record since Franco-German (as he is often referred to) Gernot Rohr came on board as coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. What seemed like a gamble prior to the commencement of the ongoing Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers is turning out a remarkable experience as, apparently, the Super Eagles seemingly have one hand on the ticket especially when one considers the fact that they comfortably top their group – they can afford to lose a match and still remain in pole position on the log – with a home match against African champions Cameroun to come on August 28 and the return leg following suit five or six days later in Yaounde.
In fairness, Rohr has gone about his business, both on and off the pitch, in an impressively subtle manner since mounting the ‘hot seat’ in August 2016. A supposedly tough World Cup qualifying group which a lot of citizens including soccer aficionadoes and journalists gave the Super Eagles no chance of qualifying from, in light of the fact that it has got Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia in it, right now sees the team sitting at the summit with six points from two games owing to Rohr’s tactical and technical ability, organization and planning, man-management skills, among others.
An inconsequential match versus Tanzania, crucial WC qualifiers versus Zambia (away) and Algeria (home), all wins and then the most recent 1-1 draw, in London, versus a star-studded Senegalese national team in a friendly without a few key players are by no means a poor scorecard.
Rohr has demonstrated the fact that he knows his onions and probably worths his salt. He releases his squad list for invitations early enough, he is quick to replace injured players on the list before the date they are meant to converge for a series of training before the match itself, he visits our Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) match venues to watch games and scout players whenever he is in town and if not, his Nigerian assistants do so for him, he keeps in touch with his foreign-based players and even goes to pay them visits in their respective clubsides in the process mingling with officials there including coaches in fact the list goes on and on. I am not sure we have had such a dedicated, passionate, pro-active national team manager handle the Super Eagles in a long time whether foreign or local.
However, the only blemish or sore point or ‘fall-hand’ as used in the title of this write up, meanwhile, before I go further, ‘fall-hand’ is a term used in local parlance by Nigerians meaning ‘the act of disappointing one,’ or most appropriately, ‘failing to meet one’s expectation’. Yeah! The latter is the exact meaning.
Back to the crux of the matter. Rohr’s ‘fall-hand’ is indeed, his refusal to recognize and appreciate players of the NPFL. He feels they are not good enough to dorn the green-white-green which in my opinion is absolutely a wrong assumption! No justifiable reason for having only FC Ifeanyi Ubah’s goalie Ikechukwu Ezenwa in a 25-man squad for friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso in London when there is a certain Stephen Odey painting the NPFL red with goals. Apart from him, there have been a couple of others getting rave reviews for their performance in the ongoing season. Rohr has got no worthy explanation for this perceived aberration! Nigerians, of course, did cry out about this and it is understood that the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) eventually reacted by asking the gaffer to issue a late invitation to Odey but it was obviously too late in the day in light of visa hitch so that was jettisoned.
Mr Rohr must understand that the bedrock of a solid national team lies in its local league and players.Top football nations of the world have the majority of national team players plying their trade at home. Even his country, Germany, is not an exception. One might argue that there is indeed a wide gap between the quality of football leagues of such nations and our own, the NPFL. Granted! What is the essence of friendly matches then? They are meant to, among other things, facilitate cohesion and unity in a squad, try out strategies, formations and of course incorporate new players into the squad; giving them the needed exposure in the process. Suffice to say that if you sit down and watch the NPFL, you would not be disappointed with the standard of play. The players often churn out amazing performances capable of being compared with those in Europe. Also, remember the exploits of a certain ‘home-based’ Sunday Mba in the AFCON 2013 which we lifted eventually. Thanks to late Stephen Keshi of blessed memory, who had so much faith in the local lads that he took six of them to that particular tournament and they did not disappoint.
Honestly, it is not a bad idea trying to incorporate the Tyrone Ebuehis, Bryan Idowus, Bazees and co. into the squad but the home lads must be given so much sense of belonging and again, the impressive efforts of the League Management Committee (LMC) must not be made to be futile.