Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr has never hidden his disdain for players who play in the domestic league indeed, the latest squad of players announced on Monday for the insignificant 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, against minnows Seychelles, couldn’t have made his position any clearer if he had taken out front page adverts in national newspapers and his obstinacy might just set him on a collision course with his paymasters, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
Whilst the Franco-German has thus far displayed a perverse imperviousness to pressure from commentators and Nigerian fans to go beyond the tokenism of the two or three play-to-the-gallery domestic players he routinely invites and include a sizeable number of ‘home-based’ players in his squads, it appears that he has no qualms defying the president of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick who has also publicly expressed a desire to see more domestic players play for the Super Eagles.
Speaking on the Lagos based radio station Lagos Talks, last November, Pinnick had called on Rohr to “take a leaf” from Super Falcons Swedish Coach Thomas Dennerby and integrate more “beautiful, wonderful, skilful, youthful players” from the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) into the men’s senior national team.
Pinnick’s public appeal which echoed the most fervent wishes of many Nigerians came on the back of Rohr choosing to play the away leg of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers against Seychelles with a squad made up entirely of foreign-based players save for mainstay goalie Ikechukwu Ezenwa who was with Enyimba at that time.
Many football fans and commentators felt that Rohr could still have masterminded a victory if he had fielded a team consisting of a sizeable number of domestic players against a Seychellois side populated by part-timers, taxi drivers and all manner of waifs and strays.
It seemed a strange decision at that time and Pinnick, making particular reference to that incident said: “you can’t be playing against Seychelles and be going with 23 professionals, what will you do when you are playing against Cameroon? Gernot Rohr should go round the country and scout for players; we shouldn’t be one hundred percent depending on foreign-based players. There are some beautiful, wonderful, skillful, youthful players in our league.”
The NFF President might as well have been talking to himself for all the good his exhortations did. In subsequent matches against South Africa and the friendly against Uganda in November, Rohr stuck with Ezenwa as usual and called up his then teammate at Enyimba Theophilus Afelokhai. In keeping with his penchant for playing to the gallery, Rohr called up FC Ifeanyiubah’s defender Adeleye Aniyikaye – a move that left many onlookers scratching their heads. With the exception of Ezenwa who kept goal against the South Africans, neither Afelokhai nor Aniyikaye saw a single minute of action even in the friendly against Uganda.
Rohr’s readymade excuse for not inviting domestic players in the past had been the abrupt truncation of the 2018/2019 NPFL season and the subsequent eight-month hiatus of the NPFL which he claimed denied him the opportunity of assessing matches and running the rule over players in the league.
Whilst that might have been true in the past it certainly is not the case anymore with the NPFL having resumed for a new season in January. Added to the fact that the March 22nd game against Seychelles is a meaningless run-out in competitive terms with the Super Eagles already qualified for the Nations Cup and Egypt who the Eagles play in a friendly three days later have themselves rested a number of key players including Mo Salah and Ahmed Hegazi, Rohr’s decision to invite 21 foreign based players looks increasingly misguided and one feels a vital opportunity to give players from the NPFL a fair opportunity to stake a claim in the national team is being misused.
Rohr kept his promise somewhat by handing a maiden call up to Enyimba defender Valentine Ozornwafor who starred for the U20 at the AFCON in Niger who together with the ever-present Ikechukwu Ezenwa make up the total of home-based players in the recent squad, but why, for instance, did Rohr overlook Akwa United’s Mfon Udoh and his seven league goals or anyone of the FC Ifeanyiubah defence line that started the season with five consecutive clean sheets? Femi Thomas at Lobi has been outstanding in goal but Rohr sees no good in the league and would sooner coerce Joseph Yobo from retirement than call on MFM’s Austine Opara.
Rohr’s latest squad couldn’t make his disdain for domestic players any clearer and there can no longer be any doubts – as long as Rohr remains in charge of the Super Eagles, NPFL players might as well play in underground stadiums because Rohr sees no value in the league and would never give them a fair chance no matter the circumstances.
The Franco-German is even prepared to defy Amaju Pinnick and the NFF – who seem powerless in the face of his detrimental stance – to prove his point.