My friends all, are we really thinking of our chances of being part of the World Cup party coming up in Russia come 2018? This question is particularly pertinent today given the fact that, as it were, Nigeria seems to be at the lowest ebb of its strength as a soccer playing nation.
In spite of our impeccable pedigree at the Africa Cup of Nations, our Super Eagles, for the second time since the 2013 triumph, will not be in the finals! We have so dipped in the FIFA rankings that minnows, who once dreaded us, are now ahead of us, not only in Africa but universally.
The Eagles that once soared and thrived like true Eagles have become like virtual flightless birds. A Cameroonian friend recently rubbed salt in my Super Eagles-loving injury by suggesting that we rename our national team Super Emus instead of the current name that our cluelessness has somewhat bastardised.
When we were still battling with the wound of the crash of the Eagles, we were again assaulted with the unthinkable failure of our mighty Golden Eaglets to even qualify for the African Under-17 championship. Under the watch of the current Minister of Sports and the NFF, our football fortunes have so deteriorated that, to discerning watchers, the future is bleak indeed. Not to mention the scandalous pass other sports, especially athletics are experiencing.
But then, as far as our football in concerned, I am an incurable optimist. After all, we are still the nation that made the impossible possible at Damman.
We are the nation that conquered the Olympic soccer world in 1996 despite the Goliath presence of Brazil and Argentina. We are also the nation that almost won Gold in Rio this year but for the asinine stewardship of those who should know better.
In essence, I still believe that we can bring our Eagles and other national teams back from their comatose. I won’t subscribe to the seemingly popular call for the sacking of the current Sports Minister.
I am sure he’s learnt his lessons, and given another chance, he should do better re-jigging the entire sport superstructure of Nigeria. I also believe that the NFF can be inspired to rise up from it slumber and look inwards to retrieve the magic wand that made the AFCON and Under-17 feats of 2013 possible.
After all, these guys were responsible for our retaining the Under- 17 title in 2015 before complacency and in-fighting derailed them from the path of success. Should these guys wake up from their slumber, we can still return to our glory days.
But I am still uncomfortable with the choice of coach for the Super Eagles. Have we really found in Gerhot Rohr a true Daniel coming to the National Team justice? His name, at first impression, sounds like the roar of a lion. But against the triple ordeal that our pairing with Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia in the World Cup qualifiers has become, can this Rohr really roar the Indomitable Lions to submission, the Desert Foxes to capitulation and Chipolopolo to dud bullets? Is Rohr the coach who can out roar the Indomitable Lions, outfox the Desert Foxes and stymie the velocity of the Chipolopolo. Can his tactical roar really make our reluctant Eagles fly? Can his strategy transform our defective trajectory of recent times?
Considering his European pedigree, one cannot really fault his matrix knowledge of the nuances of the game. But having had a rather unimpressive run elsewhere in Africa, what can he do differently in Nigeria? Judging by his managerial career, 63 year-old Rohr is surely not a small fry in the coaching business.
He has seen virtually all in European Football, managing the mighty Bordeaux in 1996 to the UEFA Cup final. He was also until 1999 the sports director of Eintracht Frankfurt. That was after having paid his dues playing for such clubs as Bayern Munich; SV Waldhof Mannheim, and Bordeaux. But his European achievement notwithstanding, this is Africa? Does Rohr really understand the temperament, politics and tactical nuances of the African football setting? Also, had the law of diminishing returns not set in considering his not so impressive run as coach of Etoile de Sahel of Tunisia and then national teams of Niger, Gabon and Burkina Faso?
Having said that, I still want Rohr to succeed. A way of doing that is to ensure that nothing comes between him and the world cup ticket preparations. He should learn to bulldoze his way through getting approval for his training and friendly programmes. He should also take careful cognizance of the current forms of players like Victor Moses and other veterans, whose experience would come handy in dealing with the opponents in this clearly difficult group. He should not be railroaded into making pedestrian choices against three other nations who are hell bent on also qualifying for the glory of self and country.
The World Cup issue apart, Rohr needs to infuse a holistic system into our development programme. The academies make the teams in his native Europe. He needs to come up with a concrete development policy that would lead to the establishment
of good football academies for the nurturing of future national team players.
Ojewusi wrote via [email protected]