What a difference one or some matches could make in football. That is the story of Gernot Rohr and the Super Eagles. On the back of disappointing displays and results against Sierra Leone, a lot seems to have changed in a twinkle of an eye. However, for keen observers, it is not surprising. Rohr has always divided opinion among Nigerians, even when it seemed the results were good. Maybe that is the story of all coaches but at best all Rohr has always gotten is a simple majority in his favor. The team’s record in 2020 does not make for good reading but how much has it gone wrong?
The Super Eagles have played four matches in 2020, they have won none, drawn three and lost one. When put into context, is this a true reflection of the strength of the team?
The year 2020 has been a peculiar one on all spheres and it has not spared the Super Eagles. The team ended 2019 on a high, impressive draws in friendlies against Brazil and Ukraine were followed by maximum six points in the first two AFCON qualifiers. However, the momentum was halted as the team could not gather for another match till October this year. In the two friendlies played in October, Rohr was without many key players, particularly his midfielders, it was largely an experimental squad. Defeat against African Champions Algeria was followed by a draw against Tunisia, a match in which things could have been different if Kelechi Iheanacho had converted a penalty. However, the performances were not so stellar, not surprising of a team that has not grouped for a long time and missing many key players.
For many of Rohr’s critics, it goes beyond the recent results. For some, they are critical of Nigeria having a foreign coach. For others, he is biased towards home based and home grown players in favor of foreign based and foreign born players. Some others actually believes he is a poor coach that has gotten lucky with some good results. In whatever group you belong to, it is difficult to make a case for Rohr after the debacle of losing a four-goal lead against Sierra Leone and some shady selections in the match.
The first leg result against Sierra Leone is one that has all the ability to deflate a team’s confidence and also deflate a team’s rating in the minds of the fans. At 4-0 or 4-1 against Sierra Leone, it was going to script. Such results would have papered the cracks, if there were any. The 4-4 result at home has made the 0-0 result away look equally bad. Away in Freetown on a bad pitch was never going to be easy for the Eagles. Even a star-studded Super Eagles lost there in 2001, leading to the sack of Bonfree Jo. The Leone Stars have a good record there. The criticisms the Super Eagles and Rohr are getting now are simply rewards for being complacent and letting slip of a 4-0 lead against Sierra Leone at home. While for some others, the result was the last drop that filled the cup.
For Rohr, he has to rethink some of his invitation and selection policies. They appear very lopsided, biased and insensitive. While there is nothing wrong in bringing new players to bolster the team, especially convincing foreign born Nigerians to play for the Super Eagles, they should earn their place and should be eased into the team. How Kevin Akpoguma, a center-back playing on the African continent for the first time, is suddenly better at right-back than the right-backs in the team is difficult to understand. And Rohr’s decision to stick with him even when it was obvious he was struggling makes it more baffling. Same can be said of goalkeeper Maduka Okoye. How clubless Ahmed Musa can still play 90 minutes in the Super Eagles ahead of active players in Europe will remain difficult to understand.
His loyalty or fondness for some players also sees Rohr inviting them when they should have been dropped for more needed players. If Zaidu Sanusi is first choice leftback, and Ola Aina the backup, what is the need for Jamilu Collins? If Akpoguma and Chidozie Awaziem are considered as right-backs ahead of Tyronne Ebuehi, why invite him? Little wonder the team is always short of midfielders in favor of numerous defenders and attackers that will end up not playing.
On a poll on our Twitter account @goaldbal a large percentage of Nigerians voted that Rohr should be sacked. Precisely 76% voted that he should be sacked.
While this can be seen more as an emotional reaction, it also indicates that Rohr’s cup is getting full.
While everything he did in his first tenure as the coach can not be wished away, the signs that he may not be able to take the team further can also not be discarded. Particularly if these sort of results and performances persists. It could be cruel but the reality of coaches is that, they are judged by their most recent results. Rohr has to reevaluate his selection and tactics before it gets too late. Truth is, a lot of critics have been waiting for this period to draw their daggers and it seems they have Rohr exactly where they want him. However, it may not be too late to wriggle out and turn the tables. Maybe ‘these’ should not be seen as being more than a slip. Time will tell.
Written by: Babatomiwa Ojo