Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr led out his Super Eagles troupe on two friendly exhibitions in Austria over the past five days and with the results already known, the performance of the team and judgements made by Rohr left football followers with diverse reactions, as it always is.
A handful of Rohr’s new invitees had featured in UEFA Europa League and UEFA Champions League playoff matches this season and they were ‘rightly’ called up for a chance to stake a claim to the national team. However, with the new materials come greater confusion for Rohr whose selections for both games left many unimpressed.
Only one outfield player completed the 180 minutes of both friendly games; West Brom defender Semi Ajayi. While this isolated fact could have been commendable as such is the essence of friendly games (especially when key players are absent), the other piece of statistics that at least eight of the invited players (8/24 = 1/3rd) did not play up to thirty minutes in both games paints a bigger worrying picture.
Out of the eight, three (including the two other goalkeepers) did not taste a minute of action while out of the remaining sixteen, Frank Onyeka and Mikel Agu did not feature for more than 45 minutes each from the first game; Rohr bizarrely preferring Ajayi in a holding midfield role, ahead of the two specialists in that role.
Against Algeria especially, such is the confusion in the set-up that both Onyeka and Agu were made to play in front of Ajayi who can also be said to be playing out of position, being a centre-back regardless of his ability to play in midfield too. Nigerians complained about the team’s lack of rhythm in most parts of the two matches and this easily stems from the anchor of your midfield. That Rohr trusts Ajayi who is not the most proficient user of the ball to lead his midfield speaks more about the German’s football judgement.
How about Paul Onuachu’s forlorn role in the Algeria game after the German had admitted that the team would not maximise the lanky forward’s strengths? In that same game, Onyeka, a specialist defensive midfielder was made to play up the pitch before he was yanked off at half time; paying for the sins of the manager.
There is also the curious case of Kevin Akpoguma whom Rohr trusted at right back in both games (second half in the first) and the Germany-born star hardly looked assured in that role, fueling another form of confusion on where precisely he is meant to play for the Super Eagles. A spell at centre back against Tunisia did not also do much to convince early doubters.
The set-up against Tunisia was another experimental mystification. The 4141 shape that saw Iheanacho play as deep as he did in Rohr’s first two games in charge of the Eagles in 2016, made the team suffer in quick decision making in the final third, pushing Iwobi – the team’s average connector – sideways was another bizarre outlook. Iheanacho took his goal well, resulting from a throw-in but the striker passed up chances to set up good opportunities in open play.
In all, another 180 minutes have been played under Gernot Rohr but the German has left his supporters more confused than convinced on his projection to take the team beyond the level he has taken them. More talents will continue to emerge and put themselves in the frame for senior national team duties but time and time again, a big question mark dangles on Mr Rohr’s ability to bring the best out of the talents at his disposal.
Nigeria will face Sierra Leone (who lost their two friendly games to Mauritania and Niger) in November and will probably beat the Leone Stars home and away but in the long term and when the Eagles face “a decent side”, more questions will be asked of Rohr’s know-how ahead of those crucial periods when the team comes up against decent teams, let alone top sides in the continent.