Gareth Southgate gave a starting debut to 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi away at Montenegro in the European qualifiers. This was irrespective of the fact that England had never won in Podgorica. He nevertheless handed a debut to a player he considered ready for the stage – a player who had not started an English Premier League game for Chelsea.
In Italy, new manager Roberto Mancini gave Juventus’ wunderkind, 18-year-old Moise Kean, a debut against Finland. But over in Nigeria, Gernot Rohr decided it was not ‘friendly’ enough to give a debut to any of the newly invited players in the dead rubber against Seychelles last Friday.
Many will not remember but this is a Rohr template, using the discarded Uche Agbo as the case study.
Agbo, who now plays for Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s Segunda division, is a midfielder cum defender, who was called up for 11 matches by the German trainer in two years but afforded just 32 minutes of action against Togo – an unrecognised friendly match by FIFA. Rohr has since discarded Agbo for other players.
John Ogu is another peculiar case. Always called up and used in friendly matches but never afforded minutes in serious affairs. Leading up to the 2018 World Cup, Ogu played in friendly matches against Argentina, Poland, Serbia, England, and the Czech Republic but in Russia, he was seated for all three group matches.
Why did Rohr have to invite Valentine Ozorwafor, Paul Onuachu, Ikouwem Udo, and Ndifreke Effiong but not play them in a dead rubber?
Was he saving them for Egypt? Onuachu started against the seven-time African champions three days later and scored under 10 seconds to announce his lanky presence on the international stage while Effiong played three minutes. For Ozorwafor, Effiong, and Udo, their real national team debuts will have to wait.
After the 1-0 win over Egypt last Tuesday, Rohr told journalists, “We made five changes with two local players making their debut. It will be good for them and their career.”
The two players handed this ‘belated’ debuts were Ndifreke Effiong and Ikouwem Udo, who came on for Abdullahi Shehu and Moses Simon in the 90th and 94th minutes respectively. You would ask, why did he bother?
In another interview before the match against Seychelles, Rohr said, “Since I’ve been here for two and a half years, I’ve invited more than 22 local players but all of them are now abroad. And every time we start inviting again, and everyone wants to come because it is the way to go to Europe to make money, which is normal.”
Out of these 22 players, how many did he give debuts to? He will answer – Ikechukwu Ezenwa, but he has since been largely ignored for Francis Uzoho.
Rohr has variously cited infrastructure, training conditions, the NPFL organisation, bad commute to and from matches, and inactivity as some of the reasons why the locally based players are not usually considered for the Super Eagles.
Since the Eagles are not the best that is possible at the moment, one wonders why Rohr does not afford many more players the stage to showcase their credentials for a place in the team? The German trainer has since announced he is done experimenting, which means no more debutants in the ‘near’ future.
He said, “It will be difficult now to invite brand new players to this group, that’s why we invited some of them here to see and already they played against Seychelles,’’ Rohr said after the encounter with Egypt.
‘’Now we have to focus on the harmony of the team, so now it’s not to make new experiments because we have our team together.
‘’Perhaps we will start with 28 players and then possibly we’ll reduce to 23. But brand new players, if we don’t find any old player from the past, we don’t consider new players but we are scouting.’’
This leaves one wondering if this decision had not been made 12 months before last Tuesday!