September 3, 2016, the 70th minute at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo and the Super Eagles of Nigeria were struggling to break through a plucky Taifa Stars of Tanzania team in a Nations Cup qualifier. Tension, apprehension and furrowed brows were visible in the stadium and all across the country.
But 11 minutes from the end, Kelechi Iheanacho eased the pressure with a shot from outside the box to break the Tanzanian resistance.
Gernot Rohr, who had stood throughout with tensed shoulders, eased to a palpable sigh of relief – his tenure, as the manager of the Super Eagles had definitely gotten under way.
Fast forward 14 months – November 13, in faraway Krasnodar, Russia, the Eagles surprisingly defeated Argentina, ranked fourth best team in the world by FIFA, 4-2, coming from two goals down to achieve the feat.
Suddenly optimism on the Super Eagles [ranked 41] soared and expectations became loftier as the team prepares for a sixth assault on the World Cup
Rohr’s entry into Nigeria
But that was not the case 15 months ago. Precisely on August 10, 2016, Rohr was unveiled as the Super Eagles manager, taking over the post vacated abruptly by Sunday Oliseh, to literal boos from the Nigerian football fans.
This was largely based on the fact Rohr was a virtual unknown coupled with the messy drama, played out in the media, that preceded the sudden divorce between the Nigeria Football Federation-led Amaju Pinnick and Oliseh.
A not-too-impressive journeyman-like managerial CV did not help matters as Rohr had coached African minnows like Gabon, Niger, and Burkina Faso plus the fact he was 63-years-old at the time of his appointment.
It just did not look like an appointment that would work.
What would an old man do to revamp the profile of a Super Eagles team that had missed two consecutive Nations Cup and seemed to have stopped producing good players?
At the time of his appointment, the NFF said he was chosen for his calmness, good knowledge of the African terrain, focus, and maturity.
Rohr’s present to the NFF
After 12 matches; 22 goals scored, and one solitary defeat, the NFF’s contentious choice has been validated. The Franco-German provided the easiest ever World Cup qualifying campaign – qualifying with one match to spare in a group that contained three former African champions in Cameroon, Algeria, and Zambia.
But how was he able to achieve all these victories in just 15 months?
A very close confidant of the coach [the man who facilitated his employment and sits on the bench on match-days], Tunde Adelakun, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said, “Communication, mutual respect, and discipline”.
He continued: “Rohr has direct contact and communication with each and every one of his players. He knows their club performances, their issues, sometimes their family and personal issues.
“He talks to them always. They love that. They respect him, but he also respects them. He never imposes curfews and lays down the law on behaviour.
“He believes the players are adults and professionals and know what is right. Because they see that he respects them, they also never want to let him down.
“And he is disciplined. He preaches on-field discipline. He advocates total focus and concentration and the players have responded.”
Rohr’s 12 matches at the Eagles’ helm
Analysing the 12 matches he has managed since his arrival last August, his team has failed to score in just one – the calamitous 2-0 home loss to South Africa in June, when the team was shorn of team leaders like Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, and their absences were lamented by Rohr.
After the 4-2 win over an Argentina side shorn of Lionel Messi but parading the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, and Paulo Dybala, Rohr said in the post-match press conference that Nigeria will not now win the World Cup.
|Rohr’s matches as Super Eagles manager|
|03/09/16||ACO||Nigeria 1 – 0 Tanzania||Iheanacho|
|09/10/16||WQA||Zambia 1 – 2 Nigeria||Iheanacho, Iwobi|
|12/11/16||WQA||Nigeria 3 – 1 Algeria||V. Moses , Mikel Obi|
|23/03/17||FRI||Nigeria 1 – 1 Senegal||Iheanacho|
|26/05/17||FRI||Nigeria 1 – 1 Corsica||Iheanacho|
|01/06/17||FRI||Nigeria 3 – 0 Togo||Musa , Iheanacho|
|10/06/17||ACO||Nigeria 0 – 2 South Africa|
|01/09/17||WQA||Nigeria 4 – 0 Cameroon||Ighalo, Mikel Obi, V. Moses, Iheanacho|
|04/09/17||WQA||Cameroon 1 – 1 Nigeria||Moses Simon|
|07/10/17||WQA||Nigeria 1 – 0 Zambia||Iwobi|
|10/11/17||WQA||Algeria 1 – 1 Nigeria||Ogu|
|14/11/17||FRI||Nigeria 4 – 2 Argentina||Iheanacho, Iwobi , Idowu|
“It’s good victory for us but it doesn’t mean we’ve become favorites to win the World Cup. We stay humble and realise we have more work to do.”
Adelakun added that the current squad under Rohr’s leadership wants to break through the former accomplishments. “We are determined to do well in Russia and work hard towards surpassing what our predecessors achieved so creditably.
“We also want to build a team for the future, and establish a known Super Eagles style of football.”
In his 12 matches, Rohr has used 39 players, the most consistent being William Troost-Ekong, who has played all the minutes in all the 12 matches.
Rohr also employed four goalkeepers across that time. Carl Ikeme started out against Tanzania, with Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and finally Francis Uzoho, who played the second half against Argentina, coming into the picture.
The most productive player for Rohr has been Kelechi Iheanacho, who scored six goals; followed by Alex Iwobi on four and then Victor Moses, who contributed three goals in four World Cup qualifiers.
Rohr now has five months before the next official match – against Seychelles next March – at which point the composition of his team to Russia should have become much clearer though we can clearly see the foundation of a great Super Eagles emerging once again.