No risks: Scoring Rohr’s choice of World Cup squad
It is quite remarkable how efficiently everything surrounding the national football team is running. The Super Eagles provisional list for next month’s World Cup was handed in 13 days ago, on schedule and with almost zero rancor surrounding its composition.
Now, considering what obtained previously, this is unusual. It has often been commonplace for the list to be sent at the last possible minute, flirting dangerously with FIFA’s deadline. As such, this latest development just buttresses how much different things are this time around.
Then again, one could look at the situation as glass half-empty and say that the reason it was so straightforward this time is because the pool to choose from is rather limited. The 30-man squad, for all intents and purposes, picked itself; the Super Eagles may be bullish right now, but in terms of quality, this is perhaps the leanest time in the last two decades. It is not the embarrassment of riches, and options, it once was.
There is also the fact that Gernot Rohr has made his own life easier by running a relatively tight ship. Faced with a peculiar situation upon his appointment, he made the smart decision to settle on his core group quickly, gambling on stability to get them through. It was an approach which proved successful, with Nigeria qualifying at a canter.
The knock-on is that, having shown himself loyal, it made it easier to pick a team. Save Joel Obi, Francis Uzoho, Junior Lokosa and Simeon Nwankwo (in the case of the latter two, strong runs at club level have earned them a look), the rest in the shortlist of 30 were called up during qualifiers.
As such, there has been no real uproar over any player in particular missing out—if you weren’t a part of the qualifying process, you already knew you had no justifiable case anyway. It was transparent enough.
That said, when it comes to major tournaments, having a settled squad well in advance can go either way. On the one hand, you have a group that is self-assured, with every individual understanding their role within the collective and so functioning almost telepathically. On the other hand, it can breed a level of complacency.
It is with the latter possibility in mind that it begins to seem Rohr could have taken more risks with his team selection.
It is often the case in football that to stand still is to go backward; the German coach would be the first to admit that his side is not the finished article, so why then was there no real drive to introduce some new options?
Perhaps no nation illustrates the fact that a side can be too settled more than Brazil. In 2006 and 2014, they came into the World Cup as Confederations Cup champions, drunk on confidence and bravado.
So confident were they, in fact, that they lined up in jersey numbers 1-11 for the opening Group match against Croatia in 2006, a rarity. In 2014, in spite of a poor run of form, Luiz Felipe Scolari persisted with a lumbering Fred upfront, to the detriment of the team.
In those tournaments, Brazil would suffer unexpected exits – to France and then Germany respectively – and rue the presumption which kept them from continued evolution.
It just seems that, given the option to freshen up the squad, to shake up the status quo and keep a young team on its toes, Rohr has instead opted to double down on his message of stability.
A more direct wide player was probably needed most urgently, if only to, for instance, put pressure on winger Moses Simon, whose form has not been as strong recently. Could the team have done with one more creative midfielder, rather than the ubiquitous Uche Agbo – always called up, never playing, and almost certain to be culled?
We will never know. The wisdom, or otherwise, of this course of action will be apparent soon enough. However, as Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, once said, the riskiest thing is to take no risks.
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