The Nigeria Football Federation of Mr Amaju Pinnick made a decision to sack the long standing coach, Gernot Rohr in November of 2021 – a few weeks to the 2022 AFCON in Cameroon. As employers, they were absolutely entitled to dispense of the man’s service whenever and for whatever reasons.
What they are not allowed to do, however, was to sack Rohr without having a competent replacement in place. That singular inaction is the reason why by 8pm local time in Abuja on the 29th of March 2022, Ghana not Nigeria, was heading to Qatar to play at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
An absolute disaster.
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How does one articulate the pain of defeat in football? To the uninitiated, admitting to suffering any pain caused by football is same as foolishness or madness. In my five decades and bit on this earth I have been through so many of these pains after a Super Eagles match but the one of the 29th March 2022 felt very different.
Why was it so different? It was so, so avoidable. There was absolutely no reason why it needed to happen. As self-inflicted injuries go this was at the top of the list.
What has followed since has been Mr Pinnick, during long bouts of self-promotion, a brief stoppage to apologise to Nigerians (“only because I am the president of the NFF and it is the courteous thing to do”). Nowhere in his many interviews has he admitted the failure of him and his Board to appoint a competent Manager to take over from the sacked Rohr.
When I was informed on the 17th of November 2021 that Rohr was sacked, I was very clear to tell my source that “under no circumstance should the job be given to Egu (Augustine Eguavoen)”. My words were given short shift and the TD of the NFF was allowed to take the Super Eagles to Cameroon. Will come back to that later.
Augustine 'Cerezo' Eguavoen. One of the standout nicknames in Nigerian football.
Cerezo played FB, DM, wide midfield and striker in his over 10 years of wearing the 🇳🇬 colours.
Not particularly impressed with the choice and his backroom staff.
— Calvin 'Emeka Onwuka (@CalvinEmeka) December 12, 2021
Meanwhile, as usual, Mr Pinnick had made it known that following words with Jose Mourinho, Jose Paseiro was going to take over from Rohr and would be at the AFCON as an observer and then have full rein for the World Cup play-off with Ghana. Never happened.
So, while Ghana called upon a technical crew of Otto Addo aided by Chris Houghton and George Boateng – full on with experience in the top European leagues – Nigeria had Augustine Eguavoen whose last job at this level was in 2007.
How would Nigeria not lose? Well, Mr Pinnick believes that providing the players with more jerseys, house wears, flying them in a comfortable aircraft to Kumasi, fighting the GFA and winning to use Golden Tulip hotel there and getting the Central Bank of Nigeria to help pay for Wells Carlton hotel accommodation for the players were far more important than a competent technical crew.
Nowhere in his many self-promoting interviews since the loss of the 2022 World Cup ticket has Mr Pinnick acknowledged that giving Eguvaoen the job was the biggest factor in the loss. Not for him to admit a failure.
I was at Brentford that night in 2007 when Ghana beat Eguavoen’s Super Eagles 4-1 in a friendly match and I gave up on him that night. It showed me fully that he did not have what was required to operate at this level. Had he gone on to coach elsewhere after that night, consistently do much better, I am certain I would have changed my opinion of him.
Is out of his depth. There was no reason whatsoever to call up AND start Bonnke last night. Dude was lost and I don't blame him because he is beneath this level.
What informed the decision to play both Iheanacho and Chukwueze after Tunisia? The former playing 90' is a sackable
— Calvin 'Emeka Onwuka (@CalvinEmeka) March 26, 2022
In Cameroon at the AFCON I will excuse him the defeat to Tunisia in the round of 16 match. A speculative shot by Youssef Msakni was misjudged by Maduka Okoye to give the Tunisians the lead. Minutes later, substitute Alex Iwobi’s pirouette attempt ended with him standing on Msakni’s ankle, VAR thought it a dangerous play so a red card. Game over. Egu and Nigeria just unlucky. I was 100% convinced that 11-a-side, the Super Eagles would have recovered the goal and gone on to win – Tunisia were a really poor side.
Despite the wins in the group stages of the AFCON, I always doubted how the team played. I struggled to see the structure beyond getting the ball to Moses Simon who was having a good tournament. It was very clear to discerning/objective eyes that Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze were not playing well, yet the coach persisted with the duo.
The buck stops at the table of those who thought it wise to entrust our AFCON and World Cup campaigns in the hands of a man who had done nothing worthy of note in coaching over the previous decade.
It is an outrage that the Board did not resign immediately after the final whistle in Abuja.
Would Rohr have won the AFCON or guaranteed Nigeria Qatar 2022 ticket? Absolutely irrelevant. I never had much time for the former Super Eagles coach neither have I ever believed it was wrong or right to sack him. What was wrong was sacking him without that replacement in place.
That lack of a competent replacement was why Nigeria had their worst AFCON appearance in 40 years and missed out on the World Cup in Qatar. For these, Mr Pinnick really should have resigned and taken his Board with him