Does Gernot Rohr Really Deserve New Super Eagles Deal?


Rohr and a Super Eagles player.

The veteran coach has agreed new terms, but Ed Dove asks whether he merits the opportunity to continue working with this Nigeria side

Amaju Pinnick and the Nigerian Football Federation ended the ongoing speculation about the future of Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr on Wednesday by announcing that he had put pen to paper on a new deal.

After increasing speculation about the Franco-German coach’s future—his previous contract ended in June—and loudening media noise about intriguing interest in veteran Harry Redknapp, it was imperative that the NFF took control of the agenda.

Even ex-England striker Peter Crouch fuelled the uncertainty on Tuesday when, in light of rumours about his mentor Redknapp, he threw his hat into the ring to represent the Super Eagles under his former boss!

Unfortunately, Crouch’s dreams of representing Nigeria will have to be put on ice, as Pinnick confirmed on Wednesday that Rohr would be sticking around.

“I’m happy to announce that the NFF and coach Gernot Rohr have concluded all contractual discussions,” Pinnick wrote on Twitter, “and he will stay on as coach of the Super Eagles.
“We have always had confidence in his abilities and we are confident that the national team can only go higher from here.”

Now, Nigeria have to look forward to Rohr for the next cycle; he will oversee the entirety of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, the tournament itself, and the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The scheduling of these events may well be affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—the qualifiers already have been—but Rohr is the man to oversee this generation of Super Eagles talent for the challenges ahead.

“We can now focus on qualifying for the World Cup and winning the Nations Cup,” Pinnick added. “In truth, these are sacrosanct and coach Rohr is aware of these conditions.
“Like the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development has rightly noted; we are uncompromising in these goals.”

So the road map has been laid out, but should Super Eagles fans be happy with the appointment?

There will be some—not unreasonably—who celebrate stability above all else, and for these supporters, the decision to retain Rohr represents a safe and sensible option, avoiding the necessity—or the perception—of starting over again.

Ostensibly, an argument could be made that he has done a good job with the national side.

While Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh—arguably with a generation not blessed with as much talent as this—missed out on the Afcons of 2015 and 2017, Rohr qualified for the 2019 edition comfortably, and finished third in Egypt last year.

Most impressively, the Eagles romped to the Russia World Cup in a magnificent qualifying campaign, looking rampant as Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria—the Afcon winners in 2012, 2017 and 2019—were put to the sword.

He’s overseen the integration of talents such as Alex Iwobi, Samuel Chukwueze, Victor Osimhen and Joe Aribo, and largely sidestepped some of the accusations and criticism aimed at his colleagues.

It’s worth noting that Nigeria had the second youngest squad at the 2019 Nations Cup, and the youngest at the World Cup, evidence of Rohr’s ushering in of this talented new generation.

Certainly, he’s not managed to end criticism about overlooking NPFL players, but the evidence of Junior Lokosa’s struggles at Esperance, or the struggles of Nigeria’s teams in Caf competitions suggests that the national team aren’t significantly weaker without notable presence from local players in the squad.

In an ideal world, of course, that would be a different story, but right now, does Rohr really deserve any criticism for not including local players when the local Eagles cannot even qualify for the African Nations Championship?

Godwin Okpara is just one ex-player to have called on Rohr to use more players from the NPFL, but when these same players lost both of their matches at the 2019 WAFU Cup, the argument feels more like it’s based on preconceived preferences rather than actual empirical evidence.

Despite his achievements, Rohr has still not convinced many Nigerians that he is the right man for the job, or at least, that he is little better than a modern-day Sven-Goran Eriksson, where tactical and technical mediocrity spurned the promise of England’s Golden Generation.

Sadly, the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign—that promised so much—has proved to be the highlight of his tenure.

Albeit in a tough group, Nigeria were disjoined against a fine Croatia side in their opener, and then crumbled late on against Argentina in their final group game, either side of a victory over a limited Iceland side.

These were big moments, and the Super Eagles—inexperience permitting, and with John Obi MIkel facing significant off-field issues—failed to handle them.

During the entirety of the Afcon campaign, Nigeria were beaten at home by South Africa in the qualifiers, and lost to Madagascar at the tournament proper—one of the nation’s most ignoble moments on the continent’s grandest stage.
They were lacklustre in victory over Guinea and Burundi, but improved in the second half against Cameroon—eliminating Clarence Seedorf’s sorry outfit—before beating a South Africa team whose race was run in the quarter-final.

Despite reaching the semi-finals, Rohr still hasn’t entirely convinced with his handling of the goalkeeper situation, nor has he developed a coherent team strategy, nor has he proved that his in-game management can consistently be effective.

Players like Anthony Nwakaeme have been discarded despite their excellent club form, while Rohr and Pinnick are still to convince entirely that they can recruit the best diaspora talent—players like Eberechi Eze—in the way that a coach with greater pedigree could.

Too often, we have seen Nigeria lose initiative, not go for the jugular, and fail to kill off contests. It must be remedied if the Eagles are to realise their potential.

At the Afcon, Nigeria struggled to break down organised defences, and were troubled by the attacking units of both Cameroon and Algeria—who had more talent and, critically, more chemistry.

The semi-final against Algeria—a side Nigeria had defeated so emphatically in November 2016—was a bad indictment on Rohr; while the Super Eagles had stagnated, Les Fennecs were better organised, more aggressive, and more intense.

Perhaps Rohr could previously have pointed to youth to explain away any of his side’s failings, but the Eagles are coming of age now and those excuses won’t hold water any longer.

To date, in a context of much mediocrity, perhaps Rohr’s achievements are on par with what he should be getting from Nigeria’s resources and this immensely deep talent pool.

However, the 66-year-old must still show that he can take this side to a new level, absorb the departures of Mikel, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo, and get the best out of a talented generation.


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