I am writing this on Thursday, November 18, 2021. By the time you are reading it on Saturday, the coach of Nigeria’s national football team may have become history.
From everything that I can gather from those with ears closer to the corridors of football power in Nigeria than I, it is almost a given that the German who has spent almost 6 years scouting for players in Europe in the guise of any meaningful and measurable coaching in Nigeria, will not be on the Nigerian bench when the Super Eagles take their place in Cameroon during AFCON in January 2022, or at the World Cup in Qatar, in November 2022.
Gernot Rohr’s one-sided relationship with Nigerian football may be coming to an end. Nigerians appear to have come to the elastic limit of their patience, waiting in vain through all of 6 years to be woken up from the man’s lethargic handling of their national team. Nigerians have been in an involuntary trance, expecting a state of being that never happened. Now, they know better. They are now certain that with Gernot, it is not even ‘smoke without fire’, there is no smoke. They can wait forever and nothing will happen. The man just does not have it.
His scorecard as a coach during that period may be flattering, but the reality is that he did not do what other coaches before him (foreign and Nigerian) could not do, or achieve what they could not achieve.
Against African teams, most of them at least, the Super Eagles will always go some distance and win most matches. Under Gernot, however, Nigerians have never suffered the number of disappointments that they did against ‘ordinary’ African teams, particularly matches played on home soil in Nigeria.
The Eagles’ performances were very inconsistent, unconvincing and totally unpredictable, always oscillating between average and mediocre, never exceptional.
At critical moments during the major competitions (AFCON and the World Cup) the team‘s lack of tactical depth was glaringly revealed. It was a demonstration of Gernot Rohr’s limitation as a coach.
For reasons totally outside his level of competency and achievements, those who should have ‘fired’ him for not delivering on the people’s expectations, could not. They gave all manner of excuses about the knots around the contract Nigeria entered into with the German that made it ‘impossible’ for him to be sacked.
Mr. Rohr’s shortcomings notwithstanding, his contract was actually renewed despite strident calls by many Nigerians, including this writer, for it not to be renewed at its expiration during his first ‘term in office’.
The big question then was how the NFF entered into a contract with a coach they could not fire even if he did not meet expectations, as he did. Who does such a thing in football? The norm in football is that coaches are regularly hired and fired. There is never a waiting period for promised success that would stretch for years as in this Nigerian case.
The surprise presently is that the same contract that stated Gernot could not be fired without heavy consequences still subsists. The decision that could not be taken then is being taken now. And the world will not end. What, therefore, changed in the contract equation? Does the NFF now have the money to pay the heavy price?
What happened during the Lagos match with Cape Verde last Sunday is that the NFF ran out of hiding place from the public on the man’s lack of energy and spirit, and his limitation in tactics. For a team loaded with experienced players, most in the first team of their professional clubs in Europe, it is inexcusable not to find a great balance and produce a good and consistent team with a discernible style of play, match after match.
To demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what kind of team Nigerians want and deserve, as well as a lack of confidence in the many young players that he keeps in the team now, he goes back for sentimental reasons to recall Odion Ighalo from international retirement, and keeps Musa Ahmed, a great hero who has diligently served the country and should take a bow when the ovation is still loud, but is past his prime, in his team.
A top official also told me about a breakdown of discipline in the team, and how the man does not have the iron hand needed to handle Nigerian superstar players. He started to handle them with kid gloves.
One player was rumoured to have kept girls in different rooms in Eko Hotel where the players were, and no one was monitoring on the eve of a game. Another player had organized an after-match party in anticipation of a victory, and was mentally distracted throughout the match.
Going to AFCON and Qatar 2022, the expectations of Nigerians will be high. Gernot does not share that sentiment. He is willing to accept the crumbs of the championships, as he demonstrates in his cautious words and actions.
For that reason, only a miracle can stop the approaching avalanche that will sweep him out of Nigeria and send him back to the obscurity of the backyard football in Europe where he came from.
So, with Gernot Rohr almost out of the picture now, what happens to the team in terms of coaching?
I hear the NFF leadership will soon be shopping for another foreign coach. Many people think that on the eve of the two biggest championships that Nigeria will be engaged in, to take any chance with a Nigerian coach would be a risk taken too far.
In which case, the big question would now be: which foreign coach?
It will be very difficult to get any of the big names in European football. They will not come cheap, and the best of them are in clubs, and prefer clubs to national teams.
So, it is likely that Nigeria will settle for one of the several ‘journeyman’ coaches, the travelling band of coaches being recycled around African countries from one World Cup to the next. They are no better than the Nigerian coaches that have not earned enough respect to be given a chance.
If anything, this is the time to take a chance, and give a few Nigerians the opportunity to do what Gernot Rohr failed to do in 6 years.
For example, Gernot Rohr did not do any serious coaching for any length of time with the players of the national team. All he did was monitor players in Europe, invite those he favoured to the two or three days of camping before matches. That’s it for coaching Nigeria’s national team and being paid a humongous 45 Thousand US Dollars per month. It is preposterous. How did Nigerians fall for this ‘scam’ for this long?
There are some young, experienced, ambitious Nigerian coaches with wide experience as players in Europe, armed with certificates of coaching from European football institutions that would work for a realistic fraction of the price of a European coach. Their only ‘drawback’ would be coaching experience at a high level.
The reality is that Nigeria will continue to wallow in the pit-hole of inferiority complex until we shut our eyes to fear and doubt, and give our own the opportunity so that they can amass the experience.
Until we respect our own and treat them with dignity, no one in the world would respect them.
For me, therefore, given what Gernot Rohr did, some Nigerian ex-international players-turned coaches would be my choice. They may not win the World Cup but, at least, they will scream and shout on the bench and show that they care and want their players to fight and win matches, unlike the ambience and silence of the graveyard that we experienced under Rohr.
They will also do what Rohr did, and more – monitor Nigerian players in Europe, identify most outstanding ones in the domestic leagues, assemble different national teams with different compositions at different intervals and for different purposes, and build a solid national team that will play with heart and might, and have a proper style and organized team-play. That’s what the NFF have to address immediately.
I must admit that it will not be an easy decision to make, but they should be ready to swim or sink with the consequences of their decision. This costly unproductive romance with foreign coaches has to stop at a point. I think the time is now. Choosing one of ours will be one ‘gamble’ worth taking because coaching is not rocket science.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait for when the gavel will be finally struck with the chorus ringing and reverberating throughout Nigeria: “Gernot Rohr, going, going…..gone!”
Photos: By Ganiyu Yusuf