Analysis

#March Friendlies: Why Rohr Must Not Be Distracted with Calls for Domestic Players Inclusion

Gernot Rohr
Gernot Rohr (C) meets with Super Eagles players, Isaac Success (L), and Odion Ighalo (R) when he visited Watford FC in October
KicKed by Bryan Efe

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After Super Eagles handler, Gernot Rohr announced his 25-man squad to prosecute March friendlies involving Senegal and Burkina Faso, there have been grumblings and outcries amongst some ex-Super Eagles players as well as some quarters of the NFF regarding Rohr’s decision to completely ignore domestic league players in his list, save for a few. The said decision has made various football pundits to be of the opinion that the coach may have been compromised in his selection decisions. All of a sudden, news about Rohr’s contractual extension conditions with the NFF made it to some dailies signalling that a faction of the glass house may already be looking forward to the German tactician’s failure. Working in a football environment full of diverse sentiments may not be a familiar terrain of the German, but I suppose he must have done his homework as to how challenging the top job in Nigeria can be. Many managers have failed to succeed here in the past especially because they could not play the required politics in Nigerian football management,  or cope with persistent interference from their employers.

Gernot Rohr, on his part, instantly became the bride of Nigerian football, restoring the hope of a footballing nation that have failed in recent times to qualify for literally all recent international competitions – age grade or not. He gained this recognition after he shot Nigeria to the top of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying group, relegating African powerhouses Cameroon and Algeria to second and third places respectively. Even though the Nigeria senior team did not have the chance to further gel when they missed out of the AFCON in Gabon, the March friendlies put together by the NFF presented Rohr with a chance to get the boys back together after a long break, and possibly test new players for future reinforcement.

A look at Rohr’s 25-man squad selection reveal a dominance of players who were part of the World Cup qualifiers. Even the few unfamiliar names, have long been rumored to be considered for the friendlies. With this in view, there have been lots of bickering as to why Rohr ignored promising talents in the NPFL. In my opinion, I believe it would be prudent to leave him alone so he can do the work for which he’s being paid. There is no doubt that he has got it right so far without our domestic players, so why the distraction? Several debates about this issue have been made in various forums, even in the popular Nigerian forum, Nairaland. Hence, I will state five reasons why Rohr is on the right track, and therefore should not be distracted in our latest bid to cheer up Nigeria at the world stage:

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1. Nigeria missed the opportunity to play games at AFCON

This may sound nonsensical to some but I’ll implore you to let me land. Our World Cup foes, Cameroon and Algeria had the luxury of testing their teams at least four times during the AFCON. In doing this, they didn’t only succeed in assessing their strengths against fellow African foes — which will prove beneficial going into the World Cup qualifying games — but they also had the chance to reinforce their team (especially since they fared relatively badly at the World Cup qualifiers) as well as build stronger team chemistry. The question is, had we qualified for AFCON, would we have expected Rohr to include home based players in the team, especially considering that you do not change a winning team? Hence, let’s consider this March friendlies, a substitute for our missed AFCON appearance.

2. Our Domestic League Players are one-season wonders.

Be that as it may, this is not to say there is no quality in our domestic league. However, the mindset of these domestic league players is to break out from the NPFL and move abroad at any slightest opportunity. Usually their upward development is not consistent going by the statistics of domestic players capped by Nigeria before moving abroad. For example, the best strikers in the league are quickly forgotten. For the most part, they disappear in subsequent league seasons after an earlier strong showing. Our domestic league lacks stability, and does not provide an opportunity to have reliable assessment of these player’s quality over time. Many would readily disagree with me on this, but l believe an unbiased assessment of the domestic league players that were given a chance by our coaches in the recent past be made. It would be obviously clear that none of them served the Super Eagles very well and in the long run, neither do any of them playing for a top tier team in one of Europe’s best leagues today. While domestic league players can indeed bring short term solutions to plugging the loopholes in the team, I think it is fair to say that only the very special ones should be called upon when necessary. I strongly believe that when Rohr sees them as he watches NPFL matches, he’ll definitely spot them. Based on the current circumstances, what is foremost on Rohr’s mind is to get the familiar boys again to refocus over two friendly games and also test the current strength of his winning team. After that is done, he can have a better understanding of the players as individuals and as a team which will ultimately give him an idea as to what improvement the team really needs going into the next qualifiers. Of course, there would also be room for reinforcements in specific areas in the team.

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3. Our foreign professionals have been dependable

Those calling for the inclusion of home based players may not really have any particular player in mind that they are very confident of that can dislodge current players in the team. This brings about the question, why is the call for inclusion of domestic players so strong as if we are in such a precarious situation that demands risk taking. There is time for everything. And this is the wrong timing for calls that have the potential of doing more harm than good; especially as the matches to be played are just mere friendlies. Nothing stops the NFF from organizing other friendlies where we can test mainly our NPFL representatives.

4. Those calling for the inclusion of domestic players just want to make noise.

In an age and time when the need to be heard (whether what is being said is relevant or not), it is no surprise that a lot of people are making input on the issue. Definitely, we have the right to freedom of speech, but it can be worrisome when certain people do this just to be relevant. Such people are used to shouting at their highest pitch when the ship is sinking. However, the current steady situation in the Super Eagles is unfamiliar to them and it makes them feel irrelevant in the scheme of things. They want to be heard, and want to be mentioned in the success story of the Super Eagles; even if it means just making noise, and crying fowl. It is the usual politics among some members of the Glass House and ex-footballers who should rather contribute towards Nigerian football in other ways than making noise when there is no cause for alarm.

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5. Rohr had long called for recommendations in defense from the domestic league

Rohr’s intention to include domestic players in his plans cannot be denied as he has long made it clear to his assistants that he has lots of options in midfield and forward positions, and that he needs some addition in defense especially as we have been looking for full back options. Those crying for the inclusion of home based players have not been able to single out defenders in the domestic league that can help fortify the team.

Having made my five points, one thing I want to note before I rest my case is that, Rohr is working with direction devoid of all sentiments typical of many Nigerians. He has a mission to fulfill and he has proved this since his arrival, that he is very serious about his job. We must give him all our support especially now that he is getting everything right by winning games. We must not tow that familiar path — remember Phillipe Troussier. Once again, I want to say there is time for everything. A time to cry. A time to rejoice. A time to be cautious. A time to take risks. Pay attention to the time that we are in.

Should Rohr’s quote be anything to go by, this man has set the highest target for the Super Eagles and himself. If we need to make criticisms, lets make better constructive criticisms than the argument against the non-inclusion of unproven domestic league players for friendly matches. Seriously speaking, we are better than this.

I have a good feeling about this job, my focus is to ensure Super Eagles can beat any team

With all this being said, let’s move our focus to the Senegal and Burkina Faso friendlies proper.

BUY your tickets and see you at the Hive Stadium!

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