Whatever happens in Russia next year, regarding Nigeria’s participation in the global football fiesta, may not be as important as laying strong foundation for a functional national team. I think Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr is on the right track. Not necessarily because of Super Eagles recent results. The whiteman has brought tactical discipline, professionalism and excellent organization into the national team of Nigeria.
Just wondering by now, what is on the minds of those who crave for Nigerian coaches to be in-charge of the national team. I’m not one of them. Granted that an insignificant number of Nigerian coaches had achieved little successes with the national team, they are always weighed down by environmental factors. Such “achievements” by our indigenous coaches have been more of accidental in nature than out of any deliberate planning or programming.
Nigeria has always excelled under foreign managers in most cases, not because they are technically superior to their Nigerian counterparts; but more due to their ability to ignore the vices that bedevil the Nigerian system. A Nigerian coach finds it difficult to resist pressure from all quarters. His allegiance is first to satisfy those who gave him the job , which, more often than not ,he does not merit. Most of our coaches collect bribe to select players for the national teams and automatically become their managers in the event of any interest from a foreign club.
A Nigerian coach doesn’t operate outside the environmental factors that have held the country down. Nepotism, corruption, religion, tribalism and the likes, to his detriment. He hardly invests in improving himself on the job but rather believes in godfathers, like our politicans.
Gernot Rohr is succeeding because he has nothing to do with the vices mentioned above. He is his own man. Yet, he is not a high profile coach. The German is cool and calculated. Very methodological. Moreover, he listens. He doesn’t field players based on sentiment which is the undoing of his Nigerian counterpart. If you deserve to be invited, he invites you. If you merit to start a match he starts with you. If you are not commanding a first team shirt in your club, he doesn’t rehabilitate you with a place in the starting lineup.
The recent international friendly against Argentina brought out the best in the Super Eagles coach, not because of the scoreline but his tactical switches. The Nigerian team adopted a 3-5-2 formation in the first 45 minutes and were taken to the cleaners. Eagles performance in the first half was scandalous. Not befitting of the first African team to pick Russia 2018 World Cup ticket. A situation where Kelechi Iheanacho’s free kick that resulted in a goal ,was the only shot on goal in the entire first half , was to say the least, embarrassing .
However, Rohr noticed his tactical formation had exposed his side to ceaseless pressure from their more illustrious opponents and switched over to 4–4-2. It paid off early in the second half. With a relieved defense, the Nigerians turned the table around.
Deceitful as the final score (Argentina 2 Nigeria 4), would appear, it was a good reward for a coach that identified the weaknesses of his team, the strength of his opponents and effected the needed changes.
We don’t see this often in Nigerian teams, especially against South American opponents. But question is; can the Eagles repeat this performance when it matters most?
Another credit to the national team coach was the invitation and introduction of fresh legs into the squad. In goal, we saw a more composed Francis Uzoho who plies his trade in the Spainish La Liga. The new invitee cannot be said, at this time, to be a solution to our goalkeeping concerns, but he showed a lot of promise. Calm and confident, Uzoho’s introduction removed panic from our defense, as if the defenders already knew the stuff he is made of. I’m still wondering why? Could it be the league he is coming from? We need to see more of him. Compare his outing with the elementary displays of our other two keepers, especially Akpeyi’s blunder and Banega’s well-taken free-kick.
Interestingly, Rohr is not being carried away by Super Eagles resurgence. He is modest in his assessment of the national team. The coach said after the World Cup qualifier against Algeria that he was still searching for a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and a striker. Most football analysts will not dispute this, including yours sincerely.
Particularly, a calm and confident goalkeeper. Do we now have one In Uzoho? Only time will tell. Russia-based Brain Idowu brought some freshness with his display we need to see more of him. Upfront, we need more creativity. The only persons close to that at the moment are Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho. But I am not sure they have been entrusted with that role officially. The mercurial Jay Jay Okocha was not a striker, but he brought a lot of creativity going forward. He could dictate the pace and change the game flow. Who will do that for Eagles?And of course, this team needs a deadly finisher. Odion Ighalo is not consistent. So who?
Obviously, the new arrivals have created more selection headache for Rohr. What is certain now is that Nigeria’s Russia bound aircraft cannot depart without the likes of; Balogun, Ekong, Shehu, Mikel, Ogu, Onazi, Ndidi, Moses, Iwobi, Iheanacho, Ighalo, Simon, and Etebo. Also watch out for the likes of Uzoho, Idowu, Aina, Agu, Eluehi,and Onyekuru.
Who should make-up the 23-man list of Russia bound Super Eagles of Nigeria? You be the judge.
•Till next week, keep attacking.