Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr on Sunday joined a host of other Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) participants by naming his final 23-man squad for the upcoming tournament; a selection brimming with talent and hope.
In going to war, it is imperative that the Captain of a troop selects the best among his soldiers and equip them with the most up to date armours in his armament – this is a sacrosanct requisite to achieving success on the battle field.
Starting from June 21, twenty-four African nations will converge on Egypt; the cradle of fighting battles, for a continental footballing war which is in an expanded format for the first time. Surely, only the troop with the “best” soldiers will celebrate on July 19 in Cairo.
Since taking charge of the Super Eagles in 2016, Rohr has masterminded victories in mini-wars – two qualifying series – but was found wanting on the global stage in Russia last summer. This time, his experience in those mini-wars and the World Cup finals will be required in the intended conquest of the black race.
Rohr’s final selection is almost blameless as he has indeed picked some of the young and best available talents for the country and in dropping the duo of Semi Ajayi and Kelechi Iheanacho, he exhibited some tactful disposition not really known to the German since he arrived in Nigeria.
For an observer like me, one major impediment to Nigeria’s success in major tournaments in recent years has been the lack of sufficient quality and depth in the team taken to major competitions.
In many cases, the team suffered once an injury or suspension happens to one or two among players in the full strength eleven which is occasioned by too much of a quality gap between the starters and substitutes. The team would then rely heavily on one or two individuals which may not be able to carry them through the crucial latter stages.
For Egypt 2019 though, Monsieur Rohr has assembled a group with squad players that can hold their own against any opposition. In the team’s last five games, they earned a draw in South Africa without Wilfred Ndidi and captain John Mikel Obi – two key players in midfield. They also defeated Egypt in Asaba with John Ogu, perhaps the last in the central midfield pecking order playing a key role.
The Eagles have an overload of talent in the attacking area and there will be no short of predatory instincts from the young forwards listed in the team, so much that Leicester star Iheanacho is deemed surplus to requirement.
Dynamism of personnel
What the team may seem to lack in terms of numbers in certain areas, it compensates with the choice of dynamic players.
The first department that looks shorn in numbers is the left back role where Jamilu Collins is the only recognised left back in the 23. It is however common knowledge that Ola Aina, a right footed full back can do as good a job at left back while Chdozie Awaziem – who played right back in the second half against Zimbabwe – has shown he has the capability of filling that role despite being a specialist centre back.
While many also argued that there are not enough defensive/central midfielders in the team, I do not think so as there are four players for the two positions while the advanced midfield role; an exclusive preserve of Alex Iwobi is there with Ahmed Musa’s second striker option serving as a back up.
All left for Rohr to tinker
Head coach Gernot Rohr’s in-game management has sometimes left fans frustrated and left the team short of desired results much so that there is no real optimism among fans that a squad as good as the one he selected could land the trophy on July 19.
Rohr’s loyalty to misfiring players in his selections has always scented in his in-game tinkering and when games require input from the bench to sail through, his soldiers have often been left without adequate reinforcements and re-strategising from the leader that should see beyond the players’ noses.
The 2019 AFCON will have in attendance some of the best match readers around and it is believed that an average squad with sound tactics and on-the-pitch response can outdo a squad of good players without a dutiful manager.
With a good crop of talents available for him on the bench, Rohr must know when to stop trusting any misfiring starter and when to introduce some of his young game changers to bring freshness and more intuition on a weary day.
It is also important that the Franco-German does not assume the role of a lone-ranger during games and collaborate more with his lieutenants especially during the decisive second half of matches.
Total Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2019 offers Gernot Rohr an opportunity to win his first silverware in a 29-year old coaching career and while the ingredients are right already, it is now down entirely to the cook to ensure a perfect blend of the materials to bring a lasting taste of success to himself and his employers.