By Sulaiman Alao:
I was happy when I read the news that Victor Moses was injured. And when the follow-up story revealed that the Chelsea right wing-back will be out of action for four weeks following the injury he copped during Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace last weekend at Selhurst Park, I was elated.
Now, Chelsea fans will cry foul, but I indeed feel sorry for the Blues’ fans and coach Antonio Conte. On the other hand, I am happy because the hamstring injury – it was reported – will keep Moses from featuring for Nigeria in the inconsequential 2018 World Cup qualifying game away to Algeria next month.
But Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr was not happy with the news too, you might say. Who cares!
Both Conte and Rohr may cry on each other’s shoulders for all I care. But as for me and the patriotic zeal I have for Nigeria, the two coaches’ present anguish is my joy. After all, one man’s meat, is another man’s poison. In this situation, however, it is a case of two men’s lamentations is another man’s celebration.
Why am I happy that Moses will miss the game in Algiers you might ask? I am happy because it will force Rohr to think deep, and work hard to fashion out strategies and tactical formations that will see the Eagles still play well without Moses.
It is very obvious that Moses has become the most influential player in the current Eagles squad. Mikel Obi and goalkeeper Carl Ikeme were the two other players close to Moses in terms of importance in the Eagles.
While Nigeria has been able to make do with Ikechukwu Ezenwa in Ikeme’s absence due to the Acute Leukaemia the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ keeper is batting to survive, Rohr currently have no capable replacement for Mikel and Moses.
It would be recalled that the first time the trio were absent from the team, the Eagles lost scandalously at home against South Africa in the very first game of the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo last April. On that occasion, the yawning vacuum created by the injuries to Moses, Mikel and the illness of Ikeme was just too obvious. In fact, the 0-2 home loss to the Bafana Bafana was an eye-opener and a blessing in disguise for Rohr as the coach found out rather unpleasantly that the Eagles bench needed fortification.
Now with the Eagles having already booked their ticket to Russia with a game to spare, I belong to the school of thought that Rohr should prosecute the Algeria game with other players. Rohr seems to share this view having disclosed that even though he would be taking the game against Algeria seriously and wants to win, he would nevertheless be fielding a much changed side for the game to give other players a chance to prove themselves.
The other school of thought however, believes Rohr should field the regular team not only to ensure the Eagles amass a total of 16 points in the qualifiers but to further give room for team bonding.
While it is not clear which other players Rohr intends to field in his proposed ‘much changed side’, it is at least good that Moses’ injury will force the coach’s hands to try another player in Moses’ role.
I will desire to see the Eagles also play in Algiers without influential skipper, Mikel and assistant captain Ogenyi Onazi. It is common knowledge to all that the Eagles have mostly struggle whenever Mikel is not fielded or substituted. We witnessed similar occurence recently when Mikel Agu struggled badly and was only lucky not to be red-carded when he was brought in for injured Onazi during the crucial home game against Zambia.
While it is clear that we have arguably a good starting eleven as it is, the same cannot be said of the largely untested qualities on the bench.
With Moses already out of the Algiers tie, it would be good if Rohr can go a step further to prosecute the game against Algeria without Mikel and Onazi also. Rohn needs to find amongst the other players those that can be like-for-like replacements for the trio.
Nigeria’s aim in Russia should be to surpass our past outings at the World Cup and Rohr will do well to start working towards building a team capable of switching tactical formations either deliberately or when one or two key players are down with knocks.
The qualities of the players on the bench should be very close to that of the starting team players. That’s what gives a good team the needed balance. No team can be truly great when its bench is poor.
Meanwhile, I do sincerely wish Moses quick recovery.