Nigeria 0-2 Serbia: The demystification of Gernot Rohr?

Super Eagles By: Imo-owo Mbede | 28/03/2018

Gernot Rohr, Super Eagles

It was just a friendly game; the objective being to appraise the team. But with Just over 2 months to the big kick-off in Russia, Nigeria’s Super Eagles looked like a bunch of schoolboys playing together for the first time in the school team's new kit against Serbia. There were warning signs from the Poland game before this – and indeed long before – which were widely highlighted, but remained largely unaddressed.

Super Eagles players visit recuperating Ikeme 

After a largely successful year and a half on the saddle, Coach Rohr – on the back of result performances going into the World Cup – deserves some serious scrutiny. Losing once (excluding the match awarded Algeria) in 12 matches before the turn of the year, considering the way the team had been playing, there was no cause for alarm. On the contrary, there was the serious belief in many quarters that the Eagles could go as far as the Semi-finals at the World Cup. However, faltering in the run-in to the World Cup is a serious cause for concern – especially with the same basic problems recurring – and this all points in the direction of the coach.

Coach Rohr has a penchant for over-reliance or a fixation on certain players (or perhaps, a certain group of players). While this fixation on a particular set of players is good for cohesion and bonding, it is inimical to building depth of quality in the squad. This haunted the team in London against Serbia. Over-reliance on Shehu, Ekong, Balogun, Onazi, Ndidi, Mikel Obi, Moses, Iheanacho, and Ighalo has robbed the team of opportunities for the proper appraisal and integration of other players like Omeruo, Ebuehi, Aina, Awaziem, Etebo, Onyekuru and Kayode. Uche Agbo, for all his invitation, barely featured in any major game in the last year.

Consequently, even the coach does not know the true capabilities and limitations of these players in match situation; yet he will not hesitate to throw them in at the deep end (when the team is disjointed and in disarray from injuries too, and withdrawals by the "regular" players) and expect them to perform miracles.

Coach Rohr has, for whatever reason, refused to address the acute lack of creativity in his team. Maybe it is just his philosophy, but it is clearly not working for the Eagles. His case is not helped by the paucity of ball-playing midfielders, but he even seems to abhor creative players, which is bewildering.

Aside from John Mikel Obi, he has failed to seek out other players who possess the ability to keep possession, dictate the pace of the game and unlock opposing defenses with incisive passes. The team has consequently struggled every time the captain fails to run up for games or is injured when it should have ready replacements, especially now that it is going to the world cup.

Liverpool FC lost their most creative player Coutinho, but the coach has devised a means to play without him successfully. Coach Rohr has not been able to do this, though luckily, the Super Eagles had gotten away with this for so long. Unfortunately, this is resulting in very shambolic performances now that the stakes have become higher (like against Poland and Serbia). At the World Cup, the stakes will only be way higher...

The Serbs were tactically superior. They stifled the Super Eagles players and pressed them out of any (generally non-existent) rhythm. They also identified the weaknesses in the Eagles' defense and exploited them for their two goals in the second half, and it was glaring that Coach Rohr had no answer to this. He simply went ahead with what seemed like pre-planned substitutions late on in the game, which had absolutely no bearing on the game.

Coach Rohr is obviously still assessing his team in various formations, but formations work when the players most suited are deployed for certain roles. On two of his not-so-impressive nights, Alex Iwobi was still about the only player who could keep possession and exhibit any creative tendencies. Yet, he has wasted away on the flanks in both games (even substituted early on against Poland), while Coach Rohr opted fruitlessly for Wilfred Ndidi, Joel Obi and John Ogu in central midfield.

What was the rationale behind starting a diminutive Ahmed Musa as the point man in attack when he was surely not going to thrive on any crosses into the box nor was he going to get his preferred supply of through-balls on the ground from the midfield? All these calls to question Coach Rohr's tactical acumen and indeed, point to the tactical ineptitude of sorts.

The goalkeeping conundrum continues. Francis Uzoho continues his baby steps towards life as a Super Eagles' first choice goalkeeper someday; unfortunately, the World Cup has come too soon for him. Ezenwa will probably do better but is definitely not the answer either – ditto for Akpeyi – going by performances in the qualifying rounds and other friendly matches under Coach Rohr. Yet Coach Rohr has not thought it wise to at least assess Dele Ajiboye if he cannot rise above the pettiness in the Football Federation and demand the invitation of Vincent Enyeama.

Gernot Rohr was named Coach of the Super Eagles in August 2016, and in nearly 20 months following that announcement, he has transited from masterminding a tension-soaked lone goal victory over Tanzania at home to upturning a 2-goal deficit into a 4-2 victory over world vice champions Argentina. Coach Gernot Rohr qualified the Eagles for the World Cup with a game to spare while breeding probably the youngest team in recent history.

However, the performances (not results) in recent times, leading up to the main event have not been encouraging. And like the Jose Mourinho situation at Manchester United, the good job so far should not absolve the Coach of the glaring deficiencies in his team.

Rohr needs to take full responsibility for the seeming decline in his team and wring changes immediately because suddenly the optimism about the Super Eagles doing well at the World Cup is fast giving way to serious doubts – and justifiably so.