There is this everlasting cliché that “the strength of football managers are also, always their weakness”: there is no better saying to encapsulate Gernot Rohr’s tinkering of Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles as this famous saying.
From the day Rohr took the reins as Nigeria’s head coach, he has shown a consistent trait; unwavering trust in his players regardless of how good, bad or imperfect they can be at any given period. That, can be a plus but almost a huge minus.
Nigeria lost 1-2 to England in a friendly match on Saturday, June 2 at the expensive Wembley Stadium in London. The manner of the loss -although respectable in the end- once again threw onto the front burner, questions about the manager’s continuous selection of certain players.
Knowing how fickle football fans and often, analysts can be in their judgment on characters in a team, Gernot Rohr has coped admirably well with criticisms and questions about some of his key men in recent times. He has often stuck his neck out for them and that has kept players like Francis Uzoho, Daniel Akpeyi, Elderson Echiejile, Alex Iwobi, Odion Ighalo, Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi fully in the team.
This trust certainly have its merits and demerits. One of such positives is the goalkeeper Uzoho who after some erratic showing on his full debut in March has admittedly grown in confidence with every game – especially as seen in the reduction of errors to an average of just one per game now. Hopefully, the errors would disappear very soon.
Nigeria were listless in most parts of the first half against England and it sometimes took the effort of the young goalkeeper – who was partly culpable for the second goal – to keep the scoreline at 2-0 during the break before an wholesome change in tactics and personnel brought back some ray of hope in the second half.
It was the third time Nigeria would trail 0-2 in their last five matches and the second time Mr Rohr would have to effect the ‘Nepa to Generator’ switch at half time of high profile friendly matches, the result of course, not dissimilar to what you get when switching from government electricity to your personally fuelled generator in Nigeria.
The World Cup is upon us and having such an indecisive nature in personnel or tactics – something Rohr has tried to avert by his loud trust on his players – has raised growing fears among the team’s fans as they countdown to the game against Croatia in Kaliningrad.
That England would line up in a 3-4-3 formation in Wembley on Saturday was a known fact and many including yours sincerely were bewildered when the Eagles’ lineup started filtering in on Saturday morning. Given how poor and incoherent the duo of Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi were in the draw against Congo on Monday (not to extend their run of poor displays to the loss to Serbia in March), it was shocking that both Eagles were expected to soar out of the Lions’ Den in Wembley without bruises.
Ask a random football fan on the pitch about Croatia. Names like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic (to mention just a few) resonate in their minds like the Nsiala Ngwa thunderstorm; but are we going to face them with Onazi and Joel based on trust?
The emphasis is being laid on the duo because obviously, the midfield and its personnel is a major catalyst that a good team performance is hinged on. And the questionable trust with which Rohr has found in the duo permeates through other key positions such as the right back position where Tyronne Ebuehi has looked more sharper and natural than Abdullahi Shehu.
The final 23-man squad has been released and we know that all these players will be eligible to feature against Croatia but there is still enough time for Rohr to review his trust policies and ensure that only the good set, better mix and best selection of players, especially as evident in recent games get to play in whatever formation he decides on (4-2-3-1, (4-3-3) or even (3-5-2)). The formation should be a matter for another day here.
Who would you like to be replaced in the starting lineup and by who? Let us have your say in the comment section.