Egypt 2019 and Gernot Rohr’s maddening crowd
By Steve Alabi
What in God’s Holy Name is Gernot Rohr doing with 50 players in the Super Eagles camp ahead of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt 2019? Fifty players in camp for a competition taking place less than two months away is certainly a maddening crowd. It looks to me like a recipe for failure. How can Rohr be looking for 23 first teamers from a crowd of 50 at a time when he should be finalising preparations for the main event? Before he is done with which 27 players to drop, the June 10 deadline set by the Confederation of African Football, CAF to submit the final list would have arrived.
Ahead of the tougher and more glamorous 2018 World Cup, Rohr was more business-like, calling to camp only 30 players to his preliminary squad on May 4, 2018. Of the 30, only Junior Lokosa, then of Kano Pillars, was a relatively newcomer to international limelight. Rohr cut this manageable size to 25 players in quick time. The five players cut, Dele Ajiboye, Stephen Eze, Mikel Agu, Moses Simon and Junior Lokosa, were easily predictable for the chop. By June 2, he had finalised the 23 going to Russia 2018, cutting two, Ola Aina and Mikel Agu, to the standby mode after the friendly against England. From 30 to 25, and from 25 to 23, there were really no surprises. The team was virtually the same as the one that prosecuted the qualifying games except a first call-up, Simeon Nwankwo who had been in good form for Serie A side, Crotone that season. Now, he is bringing a crowd to camp for Egypt 2019!
Six years ago, when the immortal Stephen Keshi led the Super Eagles to a third African title in South Africa with only two weeks to prepare, the preparation was tight and controlled. The Big Boss called a compact team of 32 to camp in Faro, Portugal, and had the courage to dare despite virulent but largely uninformed criticism of his selection, taking six players from the domestic league in the final list. The six, our own Godfrey Oboabona (Sunshine Stars), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Sunday Mba (Enugu Rangers), Gabriel Reuben (Kano Pillars), and Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), helped in no small measure to tear predictions to shreds and win the trophy for Nigeria.
Rohr’s unwieldy squad of 50 is made up of such improbable names as Sincere Seth, Onyeka Frank, Dennis Bonaventure, Anthony Nwakaeme, Ibrahim Alhassan, Phillip Azango, Ebere Eze, Ezekiel Henry, Blessing Eleke and Aminu Umar. There is even a surprise recall for Celtic man and Derby Country centreback, Efe Ambrose who has been in the international wilderness for three years. We may forgive this and the inclusion of such players as Semi Ajayi, Jamilu Collins, Imoh Ezekiel, Chidozie Awaziem, Stephen Eze and Chima Akas who had been drafted in the past but to bring the aforementioned improbable names to the national camp only a few weeks to a major championship is to denigrate the national standard.
June 21 to July 19 when the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations will be taking place in Egypt is just around the corner. Should a serious team be experimenting at this time? I must make a distinction right away lest I am misunderstood as foreclosing competition and fresh legs in the Super Eagles. Granted that competition and fresh legs accentuate performance, but these must be done at the right time. When applied at wrong times and odd moments, the effect can be catastrophic. Competition and fresh legs belong to times and seasons safe from danger. These include developmental tournaments like FIFA Confederations Cup and CHAN, not championships like AFCON and the World Cup.
How can anyone be experimenting against Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi? Group B is not a group you dread and fret about to the point of overhauling a fairly established squad. Rohr must resist the temptation of making Nigeria traverse the ruinous path his kinsman, Berti Vogts trod in the 2008 AFCON held in Ghana when he disrupted team rhythm with absurd call-ups for players who were not part of the struggles that resulted in safe landing in Ghana. Eleven years after, many are still wondering what business Richard Eromoigbe, Rabiu Afolabi, Ifeanyi Emeghara, Onyekachi Apam and Stephen Makinwa had in the Super Eagles squad to Ghana. It was not surprising that Vogts’ team was bundled out in the quarter finals, their worst performance in the competition since 1982.
A coach who has featured in the World Cup should not be experimenting with the same team with which he prosecuted the global championship, not after going through a qualifying series for another competition. But as I have always argued, in the end, the coach is the one who determines who goes to the championship. Our duty is to respect his decision, no matter how ludicrous, and support him in every way to succeed.
Last Line: A football team is strong when it is able to rise from a stumble. Our Sunshine Stars showed the depth of their strength after falling to a 1-2 defeat at home to Rangers of Enugu by snatching a draw versus Rivers United in Port Harcourt in their next game. Kudos to the lads and their handlers for overcoming the despondency that usually accompanies home defeats. Up Sunshine Stars!
PS: I just learnt at the point of filing this piece that Gernot Rorh has said that he is ruling out new players for the AFCON. If true, he deserves applause, but if not, the questioning remains very relevant.