Gernot Rohr must earn back Nigeria’s respect after World Cup disappointment
The stakes are quite high for the three-time African champions.
To miss out on an Africa Cup of Nations would once have been considered unthinkable, but the last two editions have gone by without the presence of Africa’s most populous nation.
Pride is as stake, as is any pretence of continued relevance on the continent.
If that wasn’t enough of a weight, Rohr got off to a poor start in the qualifying series, losing at home in shocking fashion to South Africa in Uyo.
Sandwiched between the euphoric performances that qualified Nigeria for a sixth World Cup appearance in Russia this summer, it seems almost unreal.
The table, however, testifies that it is indeed quite real.
Libya lead the way in the group, with Nigeria only avoiding bottom place by virtue of goal difference.
This means that, at the very least, it is vital to get maximum points against Seychelles.
Any less, and the gap to the top will only widen, with away trips to Libya and South Africa still to come.
As such, the post-World Cup period is something of a reckoning for Rohr, who up until this point has largely had an easy time of it.
In fairness to him, he earned that free pass up to this point.
However, questions have justifiably begun to arise over whether he can truly take this young team to another level.
In Russia, his unwillingness to be bold and take risks on the front foot had the youngest team at the tournament playing like the oldest.
Is he like the Biblical Moses, useful only to bring the Super Eagles out of the darkness of the Sunday Oliseh debacle, or is he the one to actually have them fulfil their destiny?
The evidence so far is not overwhelmingly favourable; it remains to be seen whether he can take up new tricks at this time.
In truth, at no time in the last 30 years had expectations around the national team been so low, and that perhaps has helped him escape the level of scrutiny that would have been due him after the World Cup.
Now, there will be a lot of eyes on his every move, starting with this game, and with the squad list of 24 he put out.
While much of the squad that went to the World Cup, aside a couple of injuries and withdrawals, are making a return, two of his first-time call-ups have caused a bit of a stir.
Former Arsenal youngster Semi Ajayi comes into the fold, and can play both in defence and at the base of midfield, while little-known Jamilu Collins is the latest candidate for the problematic left-back position.
There has understandably been some consternation in the press that Rohr went fishing as far as the English and German second divisions, completely ignoring the local league.
The obvious rebuttal is the fact that the Nigeria Professional Football League has been on hold for almost three months due to the NFF leadership impasse, but in truth the 64-year-old has never paid more than lip service to it anyway.
This is another area in which he will not be let off the hook as easily.
With little turnaround between his appointment and the World Cup qualifiers, there was a tacit understanding that there was no time for experimentation, and so he worked with what he knew.
With the Mundial now behind us, that attitude is unlikely to be looked upon kindly going forward.
The league’s more vociferous supporters swear by its quality, even as it continues to struggle on the continent; the more Euro-centric pundits refuse to acknowledge any good can come out of it.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in between, and Rohr will have to make some effort to unearth it, and give a fair chance to some of the talent obtainable back home.
It was needless to have farcically boasted about rejecting lucrative offers elsewhere after a global display of tactical naivety, cluelessness, inability to be flexible and failure to adapt to changing circumstances in Russia.
As it is, his goodwill has eroded significantly, and he will have to prove himself all over again, this time within a different set of parameters and with a greater sense of accountability.
All without compromising results on the pitch. More than ever, Rohr will have to really earn his bacon.
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