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The jury still out on Gernot Rohr

By Gowon Akpodonor
16 July 2021   |   3:26 am
Nigeria is rated as one of the best footballing nations in the world. The three-time African Cup of Nations winner, which won the Olympic gold medal in 1996, as well as silver and bronze medals...

Rohr. Photo: BRILAFM

Nigeria is rated as one of the best footballing nations in the world. The three-time African Cup of Nations winner, which won the Olympic gold medal in 1996, as well as silver and bronze medals in the 2008 and 2016 editions of the Games respectively, was once rated as the fifth-best team globally.

Between 1993 and 1998, Nigeria had a team respected by football followers across the world, with some of the Super Eagles stars in big European clubs. This period is known as the golden era of Nigerian football.

However, the team lost the aura in the 2000s, failing to make the Germany 2006 World Cup and not being able to do anything substantial in the continent until 2013.

The Super Eagles had a short-lived revival between 2012 and 2014 when former captain, the late Stephen Keshi, took over as team coach. Keshi led the Super Eagles to win the 2013 African Cup of Nations and reached the second round of the Brazil 2014 World Cup.

Thereafter, the team reverted to their lusterless ways, failing to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 editions of the African Cup of Nations.

That was the situation of the team when Gernot Rohr was appointed as Super Eagles Technical Adviser in August 2016. His mandate was to qualify Nigeria for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, as well as the Egypt 2019 African Cup of Nations.

He met the mandate but failed to lead the Super Eagles to the second round of the World Cup in Russia.

Although he won a bronze medal at the Egypt 2019 African Cup of Nations, many followers of Nigerian football believe that he has not done anything extra-ordinary to justify his continued stay as the Super Eagles boss. But there are also those who believe the German is doing a good job and deserves the second tenure recently given to him by the Nigeria Football Federation.

Rohr’s critics cite his decision to ‘turn’ the Super Eagles into an almost ‘white skin diaspora’ team as evidence the former Bordeaux defender doesn’t have the ability to build and grow the team to success. The German’s neglect of the local league and refusal to include home-based players in the senior national team is also one of the ‘sins’ of Rohr.

Recently, the NFF arranged a friendly international match between Mexico and Super Eagles with the Nigerian team made solely of home-based players. Most followers of the national team saw the match played in Los Angeles, United States, as the opportunity for Rohr to access the quality in the home-based players with a view to including them in the main team.

However, rather than take up the task, Rohr strangely chose to seed the opportunity to local coaches, with NFF Technical Director, Augustine Eguavoen, assembling a team that was eventually taken to the game by former U-20 national team handler, Paul Aigbogun.

Rohr went to the United States as the ‘supervisor’ of the team that lost 4-0 to Mexico.

Irked by Rohr’s disdainful attitude towards home-based players, many football followers believe that the German has no business training the national team since he has shown on many occasions that he has no capacity to turn budding talents into international stars.

Rohr has failed in my humble opinion, Fuludu insists

Former midfielder, Edema Fuludu, was one of the players spotted by Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof, at BCC Lions of Gboko, and was part of the all-conquering Tunisia ’94 African Cup of Nations Super Eagles squad.

Like other Nigerian fans, Fuludu is of the opinion that Rohr’s journey with the Super Eagles since 2016 has been a mixed blessing.

“Rohr is an employee of the Nigeria Football Federation, and was employed with terms and conditions,” Fuludu told The Guardian. “The conditions or objectives are stratified. The topmost objective is to qualify the Super Eagles to the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup. Next is the development of the national teams, men and women sides, regardless of the categories. He was supposed to work with the Technical department of the NFF to achieve an all-around development.”

Fuludu continues: “Yes, Gernot Rohr has lived up to the expectations of the football house in terms of qualifying the country to the Nations Cup, which the Pinnick Amaju-led board could not achieve in two consecutive periods, and also to the World Cup in Russia. He has again qualified Nigeria for the Cameroun 2022 African Cup of Nations and the team may just get the ticket for Qatar 2022 World Cup.

“These aspects of his mandate are important to the administrators and Nigerian football fans in general. So, I will say yes, the man has lived up to the expectations of a few, who understand football and majority of the fans, who look at football but actually do no see the real thing.”

Fuludu, however, added: “Gernot Rohr has failed in my humble opinion in terms of helping to develop our domestic football. He does not believe in our leagues and does not have the enthusiasm to encourage our homegrown players by making them part of the Super Eagles. He has succeeded in turning our Super Eagles into an almost white skin diaspora team. Soon, we won’t have players, who were born in Nigeria, representing us.

“Rohr, apart from qualifying us without a visible pattern and approach to our football, must begin to find time to look inwards, especially at our age-grade teams and with positive collaboration with the Technical Department of the NFF for the future of our Football.”

Former Super Eagles captain, Segun Odegbami, recently criticised the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for renewing Rohr’s contract.

Odegbami, who scored 22 goals in 47 matches for Nigeria between 1976, and 1981, has always been against foreign tacticians coaching the national team.

“I have been an advocate of the end of foreign coaches in Nigerian football and I stand by that.

“It is very insensitive of people at this time in our history, considering where we are now with the coronavirus opening our eyes to the new realities of the world, for us to continue to go back to something that has failed us.”

He disclosed that an English-based scout of Nigerian descent, Tunde Adelakun, was the one doing most of the job assigned to Rohr.

Adelakun has been seen attending English Premier League matches monitoring players of Nigerian descent with a view to a call-up to the national team.

“Gernot Rohr didn’t succeed, he took all that money, didn’t spend his time in this country. A black young Nigerian man, Tunde Adelakun was the one doing all the job,” he continued.

“Combing the whole of Europe to look for players and all Gernot Rohr was doing was spending a few days to assemble players and play matches.

“Besides that, his scoreline is not anything that Nigerians have not done before, so we must put an end to this slavery and colonial mentality,” he explained.

The former Shooting Stars star, who helped Nigeria clinch the 1980 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, believes a local coach should replace Rohr.

“Nigerians should now look inwards, everything around us shows that these people out there don’t love us so they can’t love our country more than us.

“We have Nigerians, who can do the job, they have always done the job and they can still do the job.”

• We need an intervention programme to produce local coaches, says Adelabu
Former Green Eagles midfielder, Adegoke Adelabu, sees Rohr’s journey with the Super Eagles from a different perspective.

“The major issue confronting us as a nation is that we don’t have a clear and practical agenda for the development of our local football,” Adelabu, who like Odegbami also played club football with IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, told The Guardian. “Hence, it is difficult to relate whatever successes we have vis-a-vis winning our matches at the national team level to the development of our local football.”

Adelabu continues: “The employment of Rohr is a simple way of manipulating the emotion of the entire nation because of our propensity for foreign coaches irrespective of their level of competence. We are too big a nation not to have an intervention programme to produce local coaches competent enough to handle the national team.

“I don’t think we are getting the necessary technical education in the way we play in the national team. We don’t have a steady team and we keep waiting for foreign players to form a team. Coach Rohr knows nothing about our local league. There is no specific goal given to him to achieve. He gets away with any violation or breach of contract.

“Most importantly, the NFF is not accountable to anyone. The government does not understand the use of sports, especially football, as a political tool to restore peace and empower our youths.

“Whether coach Rohr can live up to expectation is an ambiguous statement. The question is what do we expect from him? Our expectation is that he will produce magic and if he fails, he is not accountable to anyone. There is no clear objective in our football programme no matter how well our empty talks are painted in the media.

“Football development is highly scientific now that no nation will tell you what they are doing quietly to develop sports. What we do is to wait for match fixtures and the number of foreign-based players to be invited and those who will make the team with the help of scouts. What I know is that like his predecessors, Mr. Rohr will come and go,” Adelabu stated.

• Rohr has done well, but must grow local league, says Nwaomucha

Kenneth Nwaomucha, who played for the then conquering Delta Glass FC of Ughelli before moving to NNPC FC of Warri, and later Flash Flamingos FC of Benin City, says Rohr has performed well going by the number of matches Nigeria won since he took over.

Nwaomucha, now chairman of Delta State Football Association, said in a message to The Guardian: “To me, Rohr has done very well by giving Nigeria a second Nations Cup ticket in a row. I am optimistic the Super Eagles will also qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup.”

The Delta FA boss, however, adds that Rohr needs to improve in the area of monitoring the domestic league.

“The area Rohr has not impressed me is running away from our home-based stars in the domestic league,” Nwaomucha stated.

Rohr won his first game in charge of the Super Eagles by defeating Tanzania 1-0 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, in the race to Egypt 2019 AFCON. He lost his first match on June 10, 2017, a 2–0 home defeat by the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.

And at Egypt 2019 AFCON, Rohr’s Super Eagles brushed aside top teams, including the Lions of Cameroon and Bafana Bafana of South Africa to reach the semifinal, where they lost 1-2 to eventual winners, Desert Foxes of Algeria. The Super Eagles eventually won the bronze medal by beating Tunisia 1-0 in the third-place match on July 17, 2019.

After Egypt 2019 AFCON, many football fans mounted pressure on the NFF to do away with Rohr, insisting that the bronze medal finish at the Nations Cup was not good enough for Nigeria.

To them, the Super Eagles, with talented players should have, at least, made it to the final of the tournament.

The pressure from the fans notwithstanding, the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF board gave Rohr a new contract with a mandate to qualify the team to Cameroun 2022 AFCON and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But the new contract came with some conditions.

“We have told him (Rohr) that he must live in Nigeria, and that his salary will be paid in naira (the Nigerian currency). He must go round Nigerian league venues and see how he can nurture the players. If he is able to accept, we have a deal,” Pinnick said before the new contract with Rohr was signed.