Finally, Gernot Rohr announced his list of invited players for two international friendlies later this month. The list is a very important one as Rohr previously restricted himself, largely, to lists of previously capped players. It made sense because he did not want to take chances while playing competitive games.
Now, without competitive games, Rohr has the restrictions lifted. This situation provides opportunity to read into what his invitations mean. This is not about his tactics nor is it about specific preparation for South Africa or Cameroon. It is simply about Rohr’s true evaluation of his team personnel.
There are certainly signs that one may read. Here we go:
1 Goalkeeping Issues Remain Unsolved
With Ikeme’s injury problems and Rohr’s public airing of his dissatisfaction with other goalkeepers, it is surprising that there are no new faces that Rohr has called up for the international friendlies. This, obviously, means that Rohr is unimpressed with other Nigerian goalkeepers both home and abroad. Of course, this is with the exception of Vincent Enyeama who has retired and is unavailable to Rohr at the moment. All the noise about goal keeper Nwokolor proved to be much ado about little. It speaks volume that Nwokolor was unnamed for these two noncompetitive internationals.
2 Rohr has shown Determination to Solve Defensive Problems
Rohr has focused attention in building the Nigerian defense and this is not surprising going by Rohr’s previous jobs in Gabon and Burkina Faso where he focused on strong defenses. In Nigeria, he has already strengthened the middle but the lack of first team opportunities for Ekong means Rohr is forced to think of options. Those options are clearly provided on his invitation list. Importantly, he continues to work on strengthening the wide backs and the invitation of Ebuehi and the fact that Madu is getting games at Zulte provide options at those positions.
3 It appears Rohr has Few Concerns for His Midfield
It was widely reported that Rohr left out his captain, Mikel Obi, to allow the latter to settle in with his new Chinese club. Mikel Obi was the only usual name missing in the center of the midfield. The rest are players that Rohr has built a trust in and it seems that he is fully confident that the current crop of midfielders will get the job done under his management.
4 The Advanced Striker Position Remains Unsolved
Ighalo out and Ideye out. Clearly, Rohr is looking for an advanced striker that he can live with. I am uncertain that Iheanacho is the guy but he is on the list and his previous games for Nigeria justify his call up but he has recently received little playing time at his club. As for his play for Nigeria, Iheanacho was not exactly impressive as an advanced striker against Algeria after impressing in a more secondary attacking role. Further, Rohr has called up two young and heralded strikers in Osimhen and Noah Sarenren Bazee. Clearly, this is a position that needs a new name and hopefully the international friendlies will help here.
5 Rohr has Little Trust of Home-based Talent
Rohr has watched some local games and he had his assistants scout others. Yet, his only invitation to a locally-based player went to reserve goalkeeper Ezenwa who had been in Rohr's squad from the first day. What does this mean? Rohr is unimpressed. Last time, he claimed he would not invite locally-based players because the league was on break. The league has been in full tilt this time around but invitations did not go out to other local players. The answer should be clear on this issue.
6 Rohr is Definitely Building for the Future
Rohr’s focus on young players makes it clear that he is building for Nigeria’s future. Inviting players such as Bazee, 20, in German lower division, Osimhen, 18, in Wolfsburg and Ebuehi, 21, presents the picture of this thinking. There are other players on the list who could have been comfortable in the Olympic team this past year as well. They are that young!