In an earlier blog, I attempted to predict who Gernot Rohr really is as per his management of Nigeria’s Super Eagles. That was more than a year ago. Has anything changed since then? Are there new tell-tale signs of the type of manager he is? Well, that is what I explore here.
How Rohr Sets up his Team
It is obvious now that Rohr believes in being cautious than being adventurous in his overall thinking about the game. On the field, he clearly prefers to set up in a 4-5-1 defensively or 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 when attacking. The way the team played in a 1-1 draw in Yaounde is, in my opinion, the way Rohr prefers to play and the way the Nigerian team will play in Russia in 2018 if the team gets there. For the first time, the team exhibited a high level of discipline that practically shut down Cameroon. Watching that game, Cameroon was unlikely to score, except from the spot, even if the game had gone on for three hours! There were almost no chances to shoot at goal for the host team.
Importantly, Rohr’s thinking going forward is to use explosive players wide so that they can quickly get behind the defense in a counter as was demonstrated in the destruction of Cameroon in Uyo. Now, Nigeria has such players, both starting and available on the bench. Moreover, with Ighalo, there is a hold up guy whose quick distribution with his back to goal can quickly support such explosive attacks.
Rohr: Reluctant Making Changes
While it is clear that Gernot Rohr is not fully satisfied with some players in certain positions on his team, his cautious tendencies mean that it takes him time to make changes. The fact that he kept faith with Akpeyi in goal, because Akpeyi had previous international experience, speaks volumes. Akpeyi probably would have remained first choice until injury forced Rohr’s hands. That cautious tendency has been demonstrated at other positions on the team. Think about this, in 8 matches managing Nigeria, Rohr has not consistently started any of the 12 players that he debuted. That is telling. It essentially means that despite Nigerian players blossoming at their clubs, their chances starting in Rohr’s team are very slim if they do not already have substantial international experience.
His Valuation of Locally-Based Talent
Gernot has been reluctant to use locally-based players, unlike Stephen Keshi, and it appears that his hand has been forced in certain cases where invitations were extended to local players. His sudden introduction of a few of them into the squad in recent times coincide with media pressures on this issue. Prior to his invitation of the likes of Alhassan, Odey, and Olatunbosun, among others, the only local player with a regular call up was goalkeeper Ike Ezenwa. Ezenwa was already part of the A team under previous coach Sunday Oliseh. Yes, Rohr watches local league games but he has repeatedly made statements that local players are not good enough. Thus, any locally-based player hoping to get to the World Cup finals has very little chance of doing so. Notably, it is likely that Ezenwa’s performance against Cameroon surprised Rohr given Rohr’s beliefs about locally-based players.
What does the Future Bode?
Gernot Rohr, undeniably, has been successful with his method at this point. He has taken the team to the brink of World Cup qualification and it is difficult to argue that the team’s quality has not improved. The team's display in a hostile environment in Yaounde demonstrates that it is not awed by playing away from home and it has reached a level of discipline rarely approached by a Nigerian selection. What is unknown is how the team will perform at a major tournament like the FIFA World Cup? I strongly believe that strengthening the goalkeeping position with, perhaps, one more seasoned player and providing depth at the wide back positions will move Nigeria to a likelihood of doing better in a World Cup tournament than ever before. The team certainly is working towards quality that bodes well for the future.