Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pinnick Casts his Lot with Rohr as the 'Vultures' Bid their time.....

Nigerian Football Federation, led by Amaju Pinnick, today announced the signing of Gernot Rohr to manage the Nigerian national team. Pinnick had always made it clear that he preferred a foreigner to manage the Nigerian national team because he feels no local coach is good enough. He, finally, pulled the trigger after several misfirings in recent past. But by making this decision, the anti-foreign coach group is surely sitting on the fence and waiting for the German coach, Rohr, to fail. Such an outcome will test Mr. Pinnick's will to stay in office.

Gernot Rohr is a well travelled coach in Africa. He has won very little everywhere he has been in Africa but the reality is that he has never been at a big African job as the one Nigeria now presents. His first tenure managing a national team in Africa was in Gabon where he took Gabon to the brink of a semi-final place at the Nations Cup in 2012. Gabon had won all its group games and was five minutes to a semi-final place before Mali forced penalty-kicks where Aubameyang's miss proved costly. His longest tenure of over two years was at the Niger Republic where he frequently favored a defensive 5-4-1 formation that relied on quick counters at the 2013 Nations Cup. Though Niger failed at the group stage, a lone point was a record for the country. But Rohr's best performance is arguably his tenure in Burkina Faso where he lasted 10 months before quitting after qualifying the team for the 2017 Nations Cup and the third phase of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Prior to 2012, he had spent his time managing at the club level and taking Bordeaux to the 1996 UEFA Cup finals against Bayern Munich. It was at that level that Rohr first had his African coaching stint. Unfortunately, that did not go well as Etoile du Sahel of Algeria fired him when the club failed to finish high enough to play in the African Champions League.

Records Aside
Rohr is a man that jealously guards his independence and fell out on several occasions with officials at Etoile du Sahel over team selection. That is a point that is likely to occur in Nigeria as well considering the penchant for Nigerian officials to dabble into team selection. Though going by Rohr's antecedents in Africa, it is difficult to determine how his team would play. He relied on 5-4-1 in Niger where he spent most of his time but the reality is that Niger was often playing from a position of underdog. Would he use the same system in Nigeria? That is not known but 5-4-1 is a highly flexible formation as it has opportunities to transform to more offensive approaches when the team has the ball. However, what is known is that he did vary from the 5-4-1 to 4-3-3 in a few games with Gabon.

Importantly, Rohr has shown in his time in Africa that he believes the right psychological state of his players and team is paramount. Thus, he has often built relationships with his players and the media and publicly stresses importance of team goals over individual goals. In Niger, he made it a point to take to press conferences players often overlooked by the media.

It is not surprising that Rohr reportedly agreed to live in Nigeria while managing the team. After all, this is clearly his biggest job managing a national team. Importantly, he has spent a significant part of his life in Africa. Recently, he donated his monetary award from being named a German sports ambassador to a Burkine-German FOGEBU-Academy in Ougadougou. It may seem to be a minor gesture but the gesture exposes perhaps his inner feelings about a continent where he has dedicated a significant part of his coaching.

So What?
While Rohr has his big job, it is clear that he has little time to turn around a team ranked #70 in the world. He has barely two months to his first World Cup qualifying game in Lusaka against Zambia. That would be a difficult task for the world's best managers, let alone for the likes of Rohr.

However, there is a sense that Nigeria has underachieved. Thus, the belief is that a little bit of work may just be enough to nudge this team into the 2018 World Cup finals. It is a belief that would have to be tested in the coming months. Fortunately, there are several young stars coming through the ranks. Is it possible to make them significant game winners within the period of the qualifiers? We saw Stephen Keshi take Nigeria from its lowest point to win the African championship within two years. Rohr faces a similar challenge. His task? He has to take the underachieving Super Eagles beyond the favored Algeria, unpredictable Cameroon, and Zambia to a World Cup place in 2018. Can he do it? It is quite possible but daunting. He surely needs the full support of the federation. It is the type of support that Nigeria has lacked now for years.

If Rohr fails, the 'vultures' will be waiting, certainly. The table below shows how different coaches have performed leading Nigeria in World Cup qualifying campaigns. Rohr is on the clock and it is ticking. The "vultures" will take a look at performance of local coaches during previous qualifiers and wonder what could have been if  Rohr fails to take Nigeria through.