Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr on Wednesday revealed the list of players he has called up for the West Africans’ upcoming pre-World Cup friendlies against Poland and Serbia.
Twenty-eight players were invited with Rohr extending invitations to four new players for the first time since he took the helm as Eagles coach in July 2016. Defender Stephen Eze, midfielder Joel Obi, attackers Junior Ajayi and Gabriel Okechukwu were all named in the list as the German looks to settle the remaining one or two positions yet to be taken.
Like most national team managers, Gernot Rohr has proved from time to time that he is the type of manager that resists changes to a working unit. And even if any part of the component breaks down either momentarily or permanently, he still keeps faith with it – that can be a weakness as much as it is a strength -.
Since the dream of every player is to go to the World Cup, many names have been circulated in the Nigerian media in recent weeks, hoping to have Rohr look in their direction. However, while he was in Lagos to watch MFM FC’s first Champions League home game in February, Rohr told journalists he will not be inviting “many new faces” in order not to distort a stable collection. Well, sensible enough if your team defeated Argentina in their last match.
It was then not a surprise that the aforementioned quartet constitutes the new set of players called up by the former Bordeaux coach. Many Nigerians, as usual, have complained about the invitation of some of the existing players and about one or two among the new players but in all, this list tells me clearly that Gernot Rohr’s mind is made up on the following:
(i) Nigerians, behold your three goalkeepers for Russia 2018
Except a serious injury to any of Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi, these trio will most definitely be in Russia. Many are of the opinion that the goalkeeping department is the weakest link in the current Eagles set up and have such come up with interesting names like Austin Ejide and the “Triple Dele” Ajiboye, Alampasu and (wait for it), Ayenugba!
Mr Rohr is here to tell you by the list released on Wednesday that these are the first three names going to Russia and they will most likely remain so even if they do a Baruwa (vs Yugoslavia in 1998) in any of the upcoming friendlies.
(ii) Please rest! Echiejile, Musa are going to Russia
The duo of Elderson Echiejile and Ahmed Musa are arguably the most criticised members of Gernot Rohr’s squad for the past twelve months. Granted that during that period, they had endured difficult times at club level, especially Musa while Echiejile has seemingly grown slower as old age approaches, much to the fear of football fans.
Rohr has also insisted at different fora that the experience which the duo brings alongside Ogenyi Onazi is invaluable to him and his team. Hence, their inclusion for the upcoming friendlies goes to show that nothing will change Monsieur Rohr’s stance.
(iii) The odds are firmly against the new quartet
Make no mistake about this! I know the quality they bring onto the plate. Stephen Eze is a hardworking Balogun-like defender, Joel Obi is the toast of many in the middle, Junior Ajayi has been in imperious form for Al Ahly while Gabriel Okechukwu has what no other attacker in the team presently has; height and hold-up play.
But peeping inside Mr Rohr’s rather transparent mind, I’m trying to remove the four new players alongside Uche Agbo who has never played a competitive game under Rohr. All I have left is twenty-three players who are in pole position to go to Russia. Who are the outsiders in that 23? Ebuehi, Idowu or Aina, Omeruo and Ogu. The remaining eighteen are sure bet to be in Russia in my opinion.
It is now left for the newly invited quartet to see; if Eze can outsmart Omeruo, if Joel Obi can beat Ogu to the finish line and if Junior Ajayi can find a way to take replace one of Idowu or Aina.
How easy are these tasks I just highlighted? Not easy at all and it will be interesting to see how it goes.
Since Gernot Rohr’s mind is virtually made up on the players he is taking to Russia regardless of whatever form they are in at that point in time, it will then be interesting to know where and how the newly invited players fit into the team especially when there will be limited action time for them in the friendlies. Probably Ajayi might get to feature if Victor Moses does what Moses does (late withdrawal) but there are still Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi to contend with.
(iv) What hopes have Ideye, Osimhen, Azubuike?
Human wants are insatiable no doubt and in this context, football followers always have their own idea on which player should fit in a role with the team. The manager knows his team best and in truth cannot contain everybody.
That said, Gernot Rohr mentioned Victor Osimhen‘s name recently as the lad has began featuring for Wolfsburg again while Brown Ideye has scored once in five starts with Malaga since joining the La Liga club in January. With the limited space available on the plane to Russia, this recently released list leaves them to ponder if they will make it on time. Granted, age is still on Osimhen’s side but for Ideye, this may be his last opportunity.
In the midfield, Ndubuisi Mikel Agu is one player Rohr also fancies a lot and with news from Turkey alluding to the fact that he was only dropped due to passport renewal issues, it means he will be back sooner. That crowds the already numerable midfield department, an area the Eagles are spoilt for choice.
After Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi, Yeni Malatyaspor’s Okechukwu Azubuike is probably Nigeria’s most consistent midfielder in Europe this season and the recent invitation of Junior Ajayi takes to six, the total number of Azubuike’s teammates at Rio Olympics 2016 to be invited by Rohr.
Many have wondered why the lad, seen as Onazi’s upgrade has not earned an invite from Rohr despite his consistent displays but with Agu still part of the team, the recent list of players might just have told the former Bayelsa United star to come back after Russia 2018.
I wish the new players best of luck as they try to ‘gate-crash’ the World Cup party but I know deep inside Gernot Rohr, his mind is made up on many of the participants.