First, one has to express relief that Gernot Rohr has signed a new contract to lead the Nigerian national team. But relief or not, a big test lies ahead. Rohr and the Nigerian Football Federation’s (NFF) reliance on foreign-developed talent to the detriment of the local must now be borne out in results and not talk.
Obviously, Nigerians, must be relieved that the NFF took the decision to re-appoint Rohr. This is not to claim that Rohr produced exceptional results. Not at all. Nigeria has accomplished better. However, Nigeria was coming from a place of instability in its football just before Rohr’s appointment. The alternative could have been bleak. Therefore, this re-appointment of Rohr assures stability that has become rare in international football and yet is a key aspect of football especially with very little time to build team chemistry.
However, this re-appointment presents an opportunity for Rohr to re-address himself with seriousness on the job. The NFF’s reported insistence that Rohr should not ignore local football or give it perfunctory attention must be addressed. The claim that there is no local talent worthy of attention or to give locals ‘public address’ call ups is no loner good enough.
The Issue About Local Talent
The reality is that Rohr’s claims that the local talent is no longer there is a dereliction of duty. We heard that claim by Johaness Bonfrere back in the early 2000s when he was repeatedly criticized by the press. Bonfrere challenged the Nigerian media to name the local talents as if the job of the media was to identify talents for Bonfrere!
He forgot that it is his job to do so. When he refused and Nigeria stottered in the run up to the World Cup qualifiers of 2002, Bonfrere was promptly dismissed. In came Amodu Shuaibu. Suddenly, the local talent that Bonfrere claimed did not exist appeared! Amodu used three of them in helping rescue Nigeria’s World Cup qualification on a trot.
After Amodu and under foreign managers, we were informed again that no one in Nigeria was worthy of national team invitation. It had become mantra for foreign coaches who do not wish to spend the time working stringently to locate local talents. Yet, Keshi found them and one of them was critical to Nigeria’s winning of the Nations Cup in 2013. Now, Rohr is making the same baffling statement as a disguise for his failure to spend time scouting those talents.
There is little doubt that most of Nigeria’s best players are playing outside the country. The operative word is ‘most’ and not all, except if talent development has suddenly become finite. Football talent is not a zero-sum game whereas the totality of talents can leave and none can arise thereafter. Talent production is a wheel, it revolves.
Rohr has claimed that only European-based players are good enough for his team. Yet that team faced a Madagascar team of local Malagasy players, others from the small Reunion Island, and a sprinkling of unknown Portugal-based talent, to swallow the mighty Nigeria. *
Yet Madagascar or Reunion’s local football cannot hold a candle (excuse the cliché) to local Nigerian football even today. Thus, that claim that because Nigeria has players in Europe that suddenly local players are passé is a questionable argument. It is neither factual nor is it one that is supported by results. Football isn’t some mathematical equation nor have local Nigerians stopped playing the game.
The Reliance on Available Data in Determining Invitations?
But the examples of Amodu and Stephen Keshi in 2010 and 2013 respectively remind us that the talent in Nigeria can be better described as existing on a conveyor belt and not one where there is a finite number to it. To discover it is to be willing to explore, work, and identify. Those who do not dedicate the time will not locate them. The question is whether Mr. Rohr is willing to dedicate his time.
We all learned a little bit about Gernot Rohr’s thinking in a bombshell interview that one of his assistants, Tunde Adelakun, gave a few weeks back. Although Adelakun attempted to walk it back a days later, the revelations exposed the thinking and explained a mystifying decision surrounding invitation to the national team.
Adelakun basically pointed out that players playing in Nigeria were not receiving call ups because there were no reliable data. It explained a mystery to Rohr’s invitations. Suddenly it became clear that it was not a talent problem but a data problem. While it made sense in the scheme of things, it left a sour taste.
If data are not available, why not develop yours? This is why NFF’s insistence that Rohr live in Nigeria and frequently attend local league games (not simply attend one or two games for public relations purposes) makes sense.
Adelakun’s revelation explain why the NFF and Rohr dedicate resources to training goalkeepers in an area where there are abundant options at home than oversea. Rohr has chosen to dedicate resources to training the few goalkeeping talents available outside the country and making exceptions by inviting players from low level foreign divisions where they are playing or at medium level leagues where they sit largely on the bench.
Yet similar resources are not extended to those plying their trade at home. Furthermore, these exceptions are not made for locally-based players playing on the outfield! Yet, Rohr and his lieutenants argue that the national team is not for developing players while Rohr uses this same team for developing foreign-based goalkeepers.
Testing Pinnick’s Theory and Rohr’s Implementation of the Dream
At the end of Rohr’s new tenure in 2022, the NFF’s President would be under public trial and the result depends on Rohr’s success or lack of. Pinnick has dedicated much of his sporting administration to the belief that foreign is better going back to his recruitment of track athletes to represent Delta State, which admittedly was a huge success that catapulted Delta state to sports leadership in Nigeria.
But will it work for Nigeria’s football? The test is on. Pinnick surely has ow dedicated his tenure to seeking foreign-born or Nigerian footballers to represent the country, to the virtual neglect of other footballers. He has not hidden this strategy. But the success of the strategy is in winning laurels and not on talk. Right now, the results are quite meager. To have taken it to the extent of despising locally grown talent is a combustible tank readying for explosion. Pinnick has now hinged the success of his strategy on Gernot Rohr. The test is on…..
Editor’s Note: *Madagascar squad to the 2019 AFCON where they defeated the Super Eagles in the group stages was dominated by foreign based players