Amaju Pinnick has publicly given his backing to Gernot Rohr and potentially opened a rift with sports minister Sunday Dare amid ongoing speculation about the Franco-German’s long-term future as Super Eagles manager.
After two consecutive draws against Sierra Leone in the 2021 AFCON qualifying campaign there has been mounting speculation that Rohr was on borrowed time with the three-time African champions.
The first of the draws saw the Eagles give up a four goal lead at home to the Leone Stars and they failed to redeem themselves in a drab goalless stalemate in the return leg in Freetown.
It was the latest installment in a series of lately uninspiring showings by the team following a defeat to Algeria and a draw with Tunisia in friendlies last month that saw the national team end a calendar year without a single victory for the first time in more than forty years.
Rohr and his players came in for severe criticism after the first leg against the Leone Stars and following another anodyne display in the return on an admittedly horrible playing surface at the Siaka Stevens Stadium, concerns over the suitability of the former Gabon manager has risen to the fore with many deeming a paltry return of two points from both games grossly inadequate.
Leading the charge against Rohr, who recently signed an extension with the Eagles until 2022, has been Nigeria’s sports minister Sunday Dare.
Dare in a series of Twitter outbursts and through his media aides has made clear his opposition to the continued retention of the former Gabon manager and is seemingly preparing the ground for what appears to be the inevitable and imminent departure of Rohr.
In what appeared to be the final nail in Rohr’s coffin, the minister on Wednesday, issued a sinister vow on Twitter, promising “the needful will be done“, a statement many have interpreted to portend imminent doom for the Franco-German.
With the prospect of a sack looming, Rohr’s bleak prospects appear to have brightened after Pinnick rallied to his defence on Thursday, a move likely to reignite the sort of power struggle with Dare’s predecessor Solomon Dalung that blighted this NFF for long periods.
Appearing on NTA’s Sports Parliament, the NFF boss committed to seeing through the long-term deal for Rohr and stated the federation won’t be pushed into making a reactionary decision.
Defending Rohr’s record in charge of the Super Eagles, Pinnick pointed to impressive results in friendlies against Argentina, Ukraine and Brazil in 2018 and 2019 as evidence the disappointing performances against Sierra Leone were an aberration.
Rohr’s record since he was appointed Eagles manager in 2016, reads 29 won, 14 drawn and 10 lost in 53 matches, a 55.77 win percentage.
Squirming under intense questioning from the show’s panelists who deemed his defence of Rohr’s record to be watery at best, Pinnick offered a more telling and pragmatic picture of why Nigeria might be stuck with Rohr for the foreseeable future: the prohibitive payoff required to sack him.
Rohr is believed to be on between $45,000 and $55,000 on his contract which runs until after the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Any premature termination could see the NFF pay in excess of $1m in compensation; money which the federation reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic simply doesn’t have.
With his commitment to keeping Rohr on as Eagles boss at variance with the stance of the sports minister, and having seen his first term as NFF boss derailed by internecine squabbles with former sports minister Dalung, Pinnick was asked if he feared a potential repeat with Dare.
“In everything we do, the Sports Ministry is carried along,,” Pinnick replied.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on sealing early qualification, Nigeria still lead Group L with eight points, one more than Benin and five more than the Leone Stars with bottom side Lesotho two points.
The Eagles can seal their place at the 2021 AFCON, which will be played in Cameroon in January 2022 after it was moved because of the Covid-19 pandemic, if they defeat Benin in Cotonou next March or failing that, with a win against Lesotho at home in their final game.
It, however, remains to be seen if Rohr will still be Eagles manager beyond 2020.