The gamble NFF hopes will not backfire

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Two nights before his sack, Gernot Rohr was said to have made frantic efforts to rally his Europe-based players ahead of the AFCON 2021 tournament in Cameroon.

The 68-year-old had qualified the Super Eagles for another Nations Cup tournament and the last round of the CAF 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

But utter discontent, especially from Nigerian football fans and pundits, and some underhand machinations from the Nigeria Football Federation meant they sacked Rohr from his post even when the federation did not have a concrete backup plan.

Some scepticism had greeted Rohr’s appointment in August 2016, especially from football pundits, and some ex-internationals, who were angry with the poor treatment meted out to Sunday Oliseh by the NFF.

But some fans considered Oliseh’s departure as good riddance to bad rubbish.

Sunday Oliseh
Sunday Oliseh [PHOTO CREDIT: @SundayOOliseh]

Rohr’s appointment was to help checkmate the deadly virus of cash for shirts that allegedly characterised the Super Eagles campaign under local managers. Some excellent results and early qualification for Russia 2018 World Cup meant Rohr’s honeymoon period went without a hitch.

He endured the first salvo of severe criticism of his reign after Nigeria crashed out of the 2018 World Cup because of a late goal from Argentina. Many fans blamed him for poor tactical substitutions and reading of the game. The criticisms became more intense after Algeria denied the Super Eagles a final place because of a late goal at the 2019 Nations Cup.

Is Nigeria Better Off With Eguavoen?

With Rohr off the radar and the 2022 Nations Cup looming on the horizon, the NFF handed the reins of the Super Eagles to former captain and coach, Austin Eguavoen. The NFF then saddled the 1994 Nations Cup-winning defender with a consortium of other coaches and ambassadors to help tinker the team, in what many have described as too many cooks spoiling the broth.

No longer a yesterday man, ‘’Cerezo’’ is back in the spotlight. But he faces the daunting task of avoiding some pitfalls inherent in taking over the national team barely three weeks to a major championship.

Replacing a manager with another just a few weeks to a major competition is a recipe for disaster even if such a successor is a manager with big clout on the international stage. It takes time for such a gaffer to know and make players understand his playing patterns. Ask Bora Mulitinovic and Festus Onigbinde and they will admit that ‘Rome’ cannot be built in a day.

If the criteria for success as Super Eagles manager is confidence, then Eguavoen would be the right choice. He was in the thick of things at the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt after he helped steady the ship after the expulsion of Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Victor Agali, and Celestine Babayaro – happenings that divided the national team into factions after 2004 AFCON.

Once a soldier, always a soldier, they say, but Eguavoen has been away from active coaching, most especially with the national team after he last tinkered the U-23 side in 2011.

But the current Super Eagles is far bigger, with far more tactically experienced footballers who are abreast of the modern trends of the game. One factor is that the time is too short for Eguavoen and his crew to put up a side that will be tactically well-prepared for the battle against top teams like Egypt and other African football heavyweights in Cameroon, though some pundits think otherwise.

The former Enyimba FC coach, Kadiri Ikhana, tasked Nigerians to rally behind Eguavoen and his colleagues, adding that Cerezo’s wealth of experience will be enough to see Nigeria beyond making up the numbers at the African Cup of Nations.

“Well (smiles), Eguavoen’s appointment is good and his wealth of experience as an ex-international will be valuable at the Nations Cup. He has the much-needed experience of succeeding, having managed the senior national team in the past. I’m fully in support of his appointment and I wish him luck in Cameroon,” Ikhana said.

Shina Philips, a football agent and the initiator of the longest-running football award in Nigeria – The Nigeria Pitch Awards – also believes the appointment of Eguavoen on an interim basis is a welcome development.

Philips told PREMIUM TIMES the NFF ought to have parted ways with Rohr earlier than they did about a fortnight ago.

Gernot Rohr
Gernot Rohr [PHOTO CREDIT: @EaglesTrackerNG]

The sacking of Rohr was long overdue for me and when it finally came, it was a welcome development for me, he said.

“That manager, as far as I am concerned, cannot put up a team for Nigeria. Now to Eguavoen who has been saddled with taking us to the AFCON, he has the track record and I know the NFF would have taken into cognizance his pedigree before picking him to handle the team for now.”

The politics that surround Eguavoen’s selection

The NFF’s antecedent means it has a plethora of recycled coaches at its beck and call, but the assistants gifted to Eguavoen have raised more questions than answers.

How can the NFF explain the appointment of Salisu Yusuf and Paul Aigbogun as the two assistant coaches who will be closest to Eguavoen on the touchline when AFCON gets underway in Cameroon on January 9?

Salisu was caught on camera in a sting operation being bribed by supposed agents seeking that their players get favoured in team selections. This, many believe, is so huge that Salisu should have been totally blacklisted from national team duties and not reinstated by the NFF.

However, words from the underground say Pinnick needs the support of some states FA chairpersons in his quest to vie for a third term in office. Thus, he had no choice but to caress their ego and reinstate their candidate, Salisu.

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The antecedents of Aigbogun are not any better, following his woeful scorecard from past engagements with the country’s U-20, the Flying Eagles.

In NFF’s wisdom, the appointment of Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, and Garba Lawal as team ambassadors was also sanctioned to help the team deliver on its goals.

The Hour Of Truth

Eguavoen and his consortium of coaches will not be able to handle the pressure of AFCON 2021 as NFF continues to be the victim of its own administrative ineptitude. With eyes trained on the glittering prize in Cameroon, Nigerian football fans should brace up for yet another ‘tales by moonlight’ from the administrators of the Super Eagles when they cannot match expectations in January.

Rohr may be gone, but the issues that led to his arrival and dismissal are still in place. For Philps, toning down on expectations may be the best for Nigerians though he also offered suggestions on how Eguavoen can surprise his critics by winning a fourth AFCON title for Nigeria in Cameroon.

I don’t have any major expectations going into the AFCON; I see this as more like a rescue mission to halt the downward slide of our national team under Rohr, he said.

“I know Eguavoen and indeed all the others selected; including the ambassadors, know what is at stake. They can rally the team using the unshakable Nigeria spirit to even bring back the cup.

“If they can do enough to motivate these boys, it will really go a long way beyond the tactics and all that. Letting the players see the need to make their country proud is very important,” Philips added.

The NFF, by February 6, 2022, will know whether the Eguavoen gamble can continue into the last phase of the World Cup qualifiers, scheduled for March 2022 or there will be another haphazard scramble for the next gaffer for the Super Eagles.

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