I watched the Super Eagles, two weekends ago, labour against Tanzania in the last match in the series for AFCON 2018. Both sides had been earlier knocked out of the race. So, the match was a mere formality.
However, it was a match I needed to watch to glean the mind of Gernot Rohr, the new German technical adviser whose engagement by the Nigerian Football Federation had attracted a lot of public opprobrium, controversy and debate over its propriety or otherwise.
I was one of those who loudly protested the return of Nigerian football to the era of journeymen foreign coaches masquerading as the redeemers of African football. I believe it is a mental enslavement that needs to be halted, as there are Nigerians with the basic qualifications and need the experience to take them to the highest level of coaching that the country seeks by hiring foreigners.
So, you can understand that, even as I prayed that the Eagles should did well and won, I was also looking at the team critically to see what difference the presence of a foreign coach would make to the team even from day-one.
So how did the Super Eagles and their coach Gernot Rohr fare that night?
To start with, Tanzania are not one of the super powers of African football. If the Eagles needed a soft first match to kick-start the Gernot era and build their confidence, Tanzania were the perfect choice.
After 90 minutes these are my thoughts.
The Super Eagles were the better team and deserved their victory.
There is an emerging new look about the team. In goal, Carl Ikeme justified his first choice ranking amongst several other good goalkeepers available in the team.
In the defense, the pair of Leon Balogun and William Ekong were an interesting new combination. They looked better composed, efficient, organised and more promising than other previous pairings. They did not ‘leak’ with organisational indiscipline as had been the case in earlier matches and rendered the Tanzanian attackers harmless most of the game.
In the midfield not much changed. That area had lacked compactness and creativity for several years now. The main man here had been Mikel Obi. Unfortunately, he has lacked that fine but necessary ingredient of a leader that takes charge, almost single handedly taking a difficult game by the scrum of the neck and delivering victory in critical matches. He has not been that kind of player or captain and so, is hardly missed when he is not fielded. Last weekend that was clearly again what reflected when he was substituted.
Mikel Obi is a great player, but as captain on the field of play his style does not impact his team enough.
Unfortunately, the man who deputises for him, Ahmed Musa, is also burdened by the responsibility of leading the team from an attacking position. Rather than deliver the goals as was wont, Musa’s performance often drops as a result of the additional burden of being captain. It showed again in the match.
The players that played like potential captains in the Nigerian team are in the Nigerian goal, and also in the centre of the Nigerian defense line up.
As captain of the national team in the twilight of my career, I was weighed down by the same responsibility, and although I was the highest goal scorer in Nigeria’s football history up till that point,I additional responsibility of captainship became a burden that I could not properly carry on the field of play.
Outside the field, championing causes, speaking up for the team, in conduct and character and motivating the players, I was a great captain. On it, scoring the goals, I became a poor example! Even I knew that. That’s what Ahmed Musa also suffers from every time he doubles up as captain and expected goal scorer. It happened again in the Tanzanian match.
In attack, Iheanacho is a new addition to watch very closely in the years to come. He has the potentials to be the new anchor of the Super Eagles attack if he sustains his present level of confidence and freely expresses the full range of skills that he obviously has in abundance.
As for the other players, we have either seen their best already (not good enough before Gernot) or they are just another bunch of ordinary players that cannot be depended upon to fulfill Gernot’s lofty ambition to qualify Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup.
I read several things that the German had to say about Nigerian football since his arrival. He has sounded very cautious and diplomatic, saying all the right things, spreading hope and assurance.
He says that Nigeria is awash with talented players; that the Eagles’ defense needs to be better organised; that he has no problem working with his Nigerian coaching assistants as well as the Technical Committee of the NFF; that he would not return to the Uyo stadium for another match until the grass turf is properly fixed to enable good football to be played.
In short he has not said anything to annoy or offend anybody.
So, overall, the team made Gernot Rohr to pass his first test as coach of the national team.
Greek Gifts – A Dangerous New Trend!
There is, however, a rather disturbing development from the Nigeria/Tanzania match.
At the end of the match both teams were presented monetary gifts of thousands of US Dollars by the Governor of the State of Akwa Ibom that hosted the match.
The first worry is a question: where did the money he donated come from – taxpayers’ funds or his personal resources?