Gernot Rohr has finally knuckled down to the business of being Nigeria coach, with his first assignment the African Nations Cup qualifier against Tanzania this weekend. The match itself is largely meaningless, as Nigeria have failed to qualify for the 2017 tournament, but Rohr’s reign could do with getting off to a winning start.
Irrespective of the finance-induced disarray within the Nigeria Football Federation, expectations for the new man have not been tempered. Rohr’s main task is to qualify the Super Eagles for the World Cup from a group that includes Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia.
While the general feeling among Nigerians regarding their 2018 hopes remains one of pessimism, the Franco-German should expect to be cut very little slack if his team does indeed fail to qualify.
Having previously coached in Africa, what exactly does Rohr’s prior work on the continent tell us about what he will bring to the Super Eagles?
1. Soft spot for youth
During his time with Gabon between 2010-12, Rohr selected four of the country’s successful Under-23 side for his 2012 African Nations Cup squad.
Olympic captain Cedric Boussoughou was joined by Remy Ebanega, Henri Ndong and Bordeaux midfielder Andre Biyogo Poko.
He has done the same with Nigeria, calling up Imoh Ezekiel, Shehu Abdullahi and Emmanuel Daniel from the bronze-winning Dream Team, as well as handing a call-up to promising young striker Victor Osimhen.
2. Local flavour?
Local players also enjoyed favour under Rohr in Gabon, with 12 of his 23-man squad for the Nations Cup selected from the domestic league.
Whether those selections were forced by the limited foreign-based talent available could be a reasonable argument, especially as he has baulked from that trend in naming his first Nigeria squad.
Despite travelling to Spain to observe an NPFL All Star team play three games in which they acquitted themselves with more than a little decency, Rohr only picked three. Of that number, only one, Kano Pillars defender Jamiu Alimi, is an outfield player.
These are early days yet, so perhaps there is still hope for the domestic league stars.
3. Tactical flexibility
Nigerians might want to look away now. Gabon’s tactics under Rohr can be likened to Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United — in strait jackets.
They were noted for their caution, with a tendency to play a 5-4-1 and catch sides on the break, especially against superior opposition.
In friendlies against Ghana and Brazil leading up to the African Nations Cup, they were dour if resolute, but still ended up conceding two in each. And against Sudan and Burkina Faso, they could only draw 0-0. Against weaker opposition in their opening game against Niger, Rohr’s Gabon showed more tactical adventure, especially their front three.
Stephane Nguema, operating from the right, continually pinched infield to create space for Mouele to overlap, leaving Mohamed Soumaila, the Niger left-back, embarrassingly exposed.
On the other flank, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang frequently drifted from centre-forward to a centre-left position, swapping positions with Eric Mouloungui.
The pattern was simple, yet effective: they worked the ball to the right, doubled up on the hapless Soumaila, then had Aubameyang drift in at the back post. It was an easy 2-0 win.
4. Media management
It may be all smiles now, but Rohr can be as sharp with the media as he can be accommodating.
After claiming a win against Morocco in 2012, a Gabonese journalist asked him at the postmatch news conference why the team had not played better and won by a bigger margin.
Rohr’s immediate response dripped thick sarcasm as he invited the reporter to join his coaching staff and offer tips to achieve better football and a bigger winning margin.
5. Ruthless selection
His easy demeanour (so far) might well mask a ruthless glint of steel. The Aubameyang brothers, all three of them, were widely expected to make history at the African Nations Cup in 2012.
Their father captained the country at their first tournament in 1994, and the general expectation was that all three brothers would be named in the squad when they made their next appearance.
Rohr ruthlessly cut two, leaving only Pierre-Emerick. If that is the case, Super Eagles stars should expect to earn their spots only on the strength of form rather than emotion.
CREDIT: Colin Udoh