HAVING spent the last few weeks closely monitoring Fulham FC in the English Premier League because they have three Nigerians playing for them, I cannot but wonder how detached from current and contemporary developments the Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr is. Throughout 2020, the Eagles did not win one single match and have been on a slippery downward slope since that historic 1-1 draw with Brazil in October 2019.
That credible draw with Brazil in Singapore’s National Stadium for me was Herr Rohr’s zenith and ever since then, his teams have got weaker and weaker. Bear in mind that a month prior to that match the Eagles played a 2-2- draw with Ukraine in Dnipro, where they showed some real flair and in both games, we were all impressed.
Since then, we have been on a downward, struggling to beat Benin Republic and home and although natural talent got us a good win away to Lesotho, this proved to be a blip. In October, we played two friendlies in which the team was toothless and then we rounded up the year with those two disastrous draws against Sierra Leone home and away.
For me, it appears that Rohr reached the conclusion that he has his team after the draw against Brazil and as such did not need to do anymore. He clearly forgot that football is eternally evolving, tactics change and players lose form, new ones emerge, and others get better, thus bringing about a need for coaches to adapt accordingly.
At the back for instance, why Rohr insists on the continued use of William Ekong is totally inexplicable. Sierra Leone’s head coach John Kiester, made it clear that they targeted Ekong in the 4-4 draw as he was seen as the weak link in Nigeria’s defence and they got their just rewards.
We are talking about a player who is a bench warmer in the second tier of English football and clearly on the decline following his move from Udinese. To not only field such a player but also give him the armband is an insult to our national integrity, especially at a time where there are numerous better options available.
Is Gernot Rohr really trying to tell 200 million Nigerians that William Ekong is currently a better centreback than Tosin Adaribioyo, Semi Ajayi, Kevin Akpoguma, Leon Balogun and Chigozie Awaziem at the moment? They are all playing at a higher level than him and the fact that during the last transfer window, virtually every English Premier League club was desperately searching for at least one centreback but they all overlooked Ekong, should tell any coach all he needs to know.
Why would Fulham ignore Ekong and go and buy Adarabioyo or West Bromwich Albion decline the offer of purchasing Ekong choosing instead to stick with Ajayi if not for the fact that they are better? I put it to Herr Rohr that Ekong cannot get into Akpoguma’s Hoffenheim side, Balogun’s Glasgow Rangers or Awaziem’s Boavista team at the moment.
Talking of Akpoguma, why Herr Rohr insists on playing him at rightback where he is average when he is a brilliant centreback just leaves me speechless. To add insult to injury, to accommodate this inexplicable action, he has to drop two fine natural rightbacks in the form of Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi.
Rohr is still living in the past with his illusion that his so-called onyibo wall remains the centrepiece of his defence but we are no longer in 2018. As things stand, Akpoguma, Adarabioyo and Ajayi are ahead of Balogun and Ekong in the pecking order if selection is based on current form and merit.
As much as I love Balogun for his solidity and reliability, I would not risk him against quick strikers such as Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Mo Sallah, Said Benrahma, Pierre Aubameyang or Hakim Ziyech in a competitive game. He would get done for pace, especially on the counter-attack with those runs from the halfway line.
For me, however, Rohr’s biggest crime so far, is his failure to let go of the has-been Ahmed Musa. Yes, Musa has served his fatherland with distinction and should be applauded for it but at the moment, he is not among the top 40 Nigerian footballers.
In my opinion, not only fielding him but also allowing him to captain the side is a criminal offence which borders on treason. How can any logical and reasonable human being pick the clubless Musa ahead of the likes of Samuel Kalu, Henry Onyekuru, Chidera Ejuke or Ademola Lookman?
If one goes through the entire squad, you will notice clear signs of illogical senselessness whereby Rohr just refuses to let go of players he has an attachment to. Is Rohr really trying to tell the whole world that Daniel Akpeyi has more to offer than Matthew Yakubu who has just been voted as goalkeeper of the month in the Slovakian league?
I ask myself if Rohr actually watches our boys play for their clubsides because if he does, some of the players who would have caught his eye include Calvin Bassey at Glasgow Rangers, Alhassan Yusuf at Gottenburg and Kelechi Nwakali at Huesca. It was unforgivable for Rohr to have played the centreback Ajayi in midfield against Tunisia and Algeria when he had the likes of Alhassan and Nwakali at his disposal.
When I similarly look at how good a striker Cyriel Dessers is, I ask myself what more the poor boy needs to do to gain Rohr’s confidence. He should be an automatic replacement for Victor Osimhen with no questions asked.
What those two friendlies against Tunisia and Algeria taught me is that when faced with any setback, Rohr is like a deer caught in the headlights of a truck. For those games, he had Wilfred Ndidi, Ogene Etebo and Joe Aribo missing, which made his primary task finding us a new midfield but alas, he flunked it big time.
Maybe it is just fear but surely it should have occurred to Herr Rohr that a midfield trio of Alhasan, Nwakali and Iwobi would have filled the void left by the absence of Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo. Against Tunisia, we actually played 4-1-5, with Ajayi as our sole midfielder and Akpoguma at rightback.
If we carry on at this rate, we all know what is going to happen. We will not win the 2021 African Nations Cup and even if we qualify for the 2022 World Cup, we are looking at another group stage knockout.
History has shown us that changing coaches too close to the World Cup always ends in disaster, so if we are going to replace Rohr, the time to do it is now. Given the financial implications of such a move, I can understand why the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is reluctant to part with his services, so the only realistic option is for the man to throw in the towel himself.
If Herr Rohr really cares about Nigeria, he will depart from our Super eagles today and allow the NFF appoint a tactician like Marcelo Bielsa, Julen Lopetegui or Pep Guadiola to manage the team. For this golden generation of players to achieve their potential, they need a technically sound coach who will forge them into a team, not just rely on natural talent as is currently the case.