SUPER Eagles coach Gernot Rohr continues to be a deeply divisive subject in Nigerian football discourse. With about seven months remaining on his contract (due to expire in June 2020), the current debate in traditional and social media circles is on whether the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should renew or cut ties with the Franco-German. What has surprised me in the whole debate is that the anti-Rohr lobby is as vociferous as ever.
We often say that football is all about results, but it appears that the coach’s impressive results in recent time has cut no ice with his critics. Two high profile friendly games in October 2019 against Ukraine (2-2) and Brazil (1-1), have been followed by two relatively low profile AFCON 2021 qualifiers victories against Benin Republic (2-1) and Lesotho (4-2) in November.
Remarkably, these results have been achieved despite the coach having to deal with a high turnover of personnel. Immediately after the 2019 AFCON in Egypt where the Eagles won a bronze medal, influential former captain John Obi Mikel and top goal scorer Odion Ighalo had retired from the national team.
Before them, the talented Victor Moses had also quit after the 2018 FIFA World Cup while illness (Carl Ikeme), loss of form (Leon Balogun and Kelechi Iheanacho) and injuries (Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo) have robbed Rorh of the services of key players at crucial moments.
The coach has soldiered on regardless and has systematically rebuilt a new, young and promising Super Eagles with enterprising options in several key positions: Ola Aina, Samuel Chukwueze, Samuel Kalu, Semi Ajayi, Joe Aribo, Victor Osimhen, etcetera. I would have thought these are enough reasons to guarantee Gernot Rorh an automatic extension of his contract. But what do I know?!
I respect the opinion of the anti-Rorh lobby who insist that his qualifying Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup from a tough group that consisted of Algeria, Cameroun and Zambia was not a big deal; I accept their insistence that it was his fault that Argentina scored a late winning goal against Nigeria which eliminated us at the World Cup finals in Russia; I concede that it was also his fault that Algeria’s Riyaz Mahrez scored a brilliant free kick that eliminated us at the 2019 AFCON semi-final and that the eventual bronze medal win by our young team was nothing to write home about; and-so-what if his team held five-time world champions Brazil to a 1-1 draw in a friendly, never mind that the Samba Boys comprehensively beat us 3-0 in Abuja the only previous time we crossed their path at full senior level.
Sarcasm aside, my position on Gernot Rohr is well documented and I will restate it. I am fully convinced that he has done a marvelous job since he took over the Super Eagles and the least he deserves is an extension of his contract. I said so after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I repeated it after the 2019 AFCON and I’m repeating it now. In fact, if it was my call, I would have offered Rohr a contract extension after the 2018 World Cup finals. I wouldn’t be waiting for his current deal to expire in 2020.
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With due respect to the anti-Rohr lobby, I think they have an exaggerated view of Nigeria’s capabilities. Everybody keeps talking about how “we have so much talent,” conveniently forgetting that we don’t have a monopoly of those talents even within Africa, much less at world level. We must shorn ourselves of this Delusion of Grandeur in order to appreciate the little but incremental achievements recorded by Rohr. And that brings me to the analogy of Manchester United Football Club of England.
United’s iconic manager Sir Alex Ferguson achieved so much success (38 trophies altogether) during his long reign so much so that the club formed a habit of winning. When Ferguson retired in 2013, however, the club owners took it for granted their winnings would continue automatically and were impatient with Ferguson’s immediate successors. Ferguson was in charge for 26 years, but just six years after he left, United are already on their fifth manager!
David Moyes was considered too conservative as he didn’t hit the ground running (or winning, I should say!); caretaker Ryan Giggs didn’t have the required “high profile” experience; Louis van Gaal was seen as too theoretical and got fired despite winning an FA Cup; Jose Mourinho was considered as too pragmatic in his approach and was also sacked; now the club are stuck with Ole Gunnar Solkjaer, arguably the least qualified man for the job!
After their multiple fits of impatience, the United top hierarchy have finally realized that replicating the successes of the Ferguson era will not be automatic; they have realized that they can’t continue to sack just every manager that falls below the high standards set by Ferguson; now they have resigned themselves to rebuilding the team slowly and hoping for a return to winning ways a couple of years down the line. The inexperienced Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is the big beneficiary of the painful but unavoidable patience that has now been forced on the owners of Man United.
Nigeria should flip the lesson from United. Before Gernot Rohr’s arrival, the Super Eagles were virtually in the doldrums. Now that he has gradually brought the team back into reckoning, some people are growing impatient. They want Nigeria to be African champions immediately because late Stephen Keshi fortuitously achieved a similar feat in 2013, forgetting that the scenarios are completely different. They want Rohr to be sacked so that the progress achieved so far can be halted and the never ending “rebuilding” of the Super Eagles restarted.
I do not share the opinion of the anti-Rohr lobby. On the contrary, I believe Rohr has done quite well in his job, he has always been honest and truthful in analyzing his team and their chances, he has always managed expectations but surpassed those expectations. Most importantly, he has met the targets set for him by his employers.
My final take is that just as Amaju Pinnick took a big gamble on Gernot Rohr when employing him in 2016 (which has paid off handsomely in my estimation), I hope the NFF president will demonstrate similar courage in giving the coach an extension to continue his good works. We should draw a lesson from the Manchester United analogy. Patience is a virtue. May we not end up with an Ole!