Last Wednesday night, the Super Eagles put up their best performance so far in AFCON 2019. As difficult as the match was, there were almost no threats to the Nigerian goal throughout the encounter. Even the goal the South Africans scored was a gift by the elements. On hindsight, it was so that Nigeria’s victory would be much sweeter. A match without high tension is like tea without sugar.
A lot of the credit for the team that was assembled, how the team played, and how they won, must naturally go to the man whose responsibility it was to put it all together – Gernot Rohr.
A British journalist friend, Satish Sekar, called me up from Cairo after Nigeria won their match against South Africa last Wednesday night wondering if I had changed my mind about Gernot Rohr and forgiven him his ‘sins’.
Satish must have read media reports during the week where I said that were I to be in charge of the Super Eagles, I would have sidelined Gernot after the loss against Madagascar. Hence his valid question now.
My simple answer is that my statement was hypothetical. I am not in charge of Nigerian football. Gernot is still in charge of his team, a responsibility handed to him by his employers who also read my reaction and, I believe, must have let the German know that he made a big mistake and goofed by toying with the emotions of Nigerians.
Nigerians love to win every single match even if it is against the World XI, and it is not that they do not know they are not the best team in the world and must lose matches.
The issue is that, beyond football, the country represents more than meets the ordinary eye with which Gernot must have been viewing Nigeria and Nigerians. Otherwise, why would he take the entire country for granted by taking an avoidable and unnecessary decision of assembling a ‘weak’ team to represent the largest congregation of Black persons in the world, a country with pride, a country with rich historic antecedents in football, with resources and human capacity to become a global football power, to play a match, any match for that matter, where the whole world will be watching and the joy and livelihood of over 50 million Nigerians will be at risk?
For general information purposes, for those that do not know, unofficial estimates put the number of people driving an undocumented football economy in the country at over 50 million. Most of them are youths.
Do the math. There are over 5 million small television viewing centres in all the nooks and crannies of the country, with a minimum of about 10 people in each centre fueling business and sustaining a silent but very crucial economy.
So, with over 50 million youths watching their national team every time the Super Eagles play, a youth population of very loud people, barely surviving with great difficulty in a harsh political, economic and social environment, to lose an important match carelessly against a small, country from ‘nowhere’ and without any antecedents in football, is totally unacceptable.
That ‘small’ defeat that Gernot glossed over with a remorseless smile when he granted an interview after the match, has dented Nigeria’s records in the history books of African football, could have cost Nigeria further progress in the current African championship and created untold and immeasurable temporary pain and agony in every home in the country.
It was a careless decision, and must be condemned so that such is never repeated.
The football economy impacts the media, the leisure industry, the betting industry, the entertainment industry, and so on. This humongous field is one that feeds on the success of the Super Eagles. To lose an important match means hunger and ‘death’ for some businesses. I know because I am involved.
That was my point. That was why I would have rested Gernot till the end of the championship if I were in charge. To teach him a lesson on how not to coach Nigeria’s national team, and how not to take Nigerians and their national sport for granted.
He got my message, that’s the important thing.
Something tells me that the meeting he held with Amaju PInnick before the last match was to register that point and others to him.
Since then everyone can see what has happened. Going forward now, no matter what happens till the end of the AFCON 2019 championship, from what I saw last Wednesday night, Gernot Rohr has become a changed man. He is now reborn.
He selected the best set of players that coincided with what majority of Nigerians watching all the matches and making their own assessments would largely agree with.
He got the team to play with confidence and calmness and everyone could see a pattern, discipline and organization in how the team played. No, it was not perfect, but football is never perfect, but this time it worked.
Playing like that, even if Nigeria had lost, we would still have been pained but would have gone back home knowing that it was not because we disrespected our opponents and did not field the best of us.
Gernot was on his feet raising his voice, gesticulating from time to time, feebly giving out instructions, trying to act as if marshalling the team and guiding them, throughout that match. He showed some concern for whatever was going to happen, even if he was obviously not in the class of a Mourinho, or a Klopp, in the act of being the 12th player.
He did not play ‘sentiments’. When he felt that the captain of the team needed to give way, he did not even hesitate in substituting Ahmed Musa. That’s how a serious coach should behave to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to a foreign country that hires him.
Gernot has changed. So, he deserves to be given the opportunity to serve out his term.
Going forward, however, looking towards a bigger goal, going to the 2022 World Cup and going far in accordance to Nigeria’s potentials seen long ago by global experts, but still hovering in the periphery of greatness only, the country needs a new coach, one that will imbibe and use the inherent strengths in the Nigerian DNA to drive the country’s football and footballers to become the best in the world and show the rest of the domestic polity, that Nigeria can be the greatest Black country in the world with the right kind of leadership…and followership.
Football can be the light of at new nation.
So, in response to Satish’s question, for Gernot Rohr, all is forgiven!
Good luck to him for the rest of AFCON 2019.