The highs and lows of Gernot Rohr: September 2016 to September 2020

What have escaped a lot of Super Eagles fans is that by the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in February of the same year – 6 years before the appointment of Gernot Rohr – Nigeria was sitting comfortably in 15th position in the global FIFA rankings and 2nd position in Africa just behind back-to-back continental conquerors Egypt.

Just two years before, the Super Eagles were in 39 position in the world however Late Amodu Shuibu skilfully masterminded an impressive FIFA rankings rise which often goes unreported (more so as he was sacked after hitting ALL targets set for him by the NFF, before the world cup later in 2010).

Then fast-forward to September 2016, Nigeria was in a lowly 64 position in the FIFA rankings in the world and an astonishing 14 place in Africa behind the likes of Congo, Guinea and Mali.

The national team was at its lowest ebb. From a team that qualified for the Cup of Nations with impunity, Nigeria had missed not 1, not 2 but unbelievably 3 editions of the continental fiesta in just 7 years (just 7 years!) after Amodu had led the nation 3rd place in the Afcon tournament and 2nd place in Africa in the Fifa rankings.

In between 2010 and 2017, Nigeria actually qualified for and won the tournament in 2013 under the tutelage of the Late Stephen Keshi but failure to even qualify for the Afcon on 3 occasions sadly blighted that period.

Just like when politicians get elected only to loot the wealth of the nation, the footballing authorities have looted the gains achieved by the Super Eagles in early 2010 through maladministration, questionable decisions, rancorous infightings, alleged financial misappropriation and a total loss of focus (so much so that the 2013 victory now feels like a blip in retrospect).

The Super Eagles at that time was bleeding to oblivion in world and African football reckonings; something had to happen.


Come September 2016, a certain unassuming German man started his reign as Super Eagles coach. His inheritance: a declining team in shambles; his skills: man management and a German coaching style; his name: Gernot Rohr.

Having been rejected by French man Paul Le Guen (partly due to the enormity of the tasks before him as he rejected the targets set for him by the NFF), the footballing authorities turned to Gernot Rohr in July 2016. The former Burkina Faso coach gladly accepted arguably the most unattractively difficult job in world football at the time.

He must have been mad!

To take this dishevelled Super Eagles team from the slums of successive underachievements (in FIFA rankings and Afcon qualifications) to the echelons greatness seemed forlorn at that time, even for such a great but waning footballing nation like Nigeria.

However, by September 2020 (4 years as Super Eagles coach) the nation was sitting comfortably 29 position in the world FIFA rankings (3rd in Africa) and has firmly reclaimed her position in the Africa Cup of Nations as a team sure to qualify for the tournament and sure to reach – at the very minimum – the knockout stages (the Super Eagles are currently Afcon Bronze medallist).

All these seemed impossible in 2016 – when reputable coaches were avoiding Nigeria like a plague.

So, why have many Super Eagles stakeholders (fans, ex-footballers, journalists, bloggers, administrators, agents and observers) fallen out of love with Rohr after all he has done for the nation’s darling: the Super Eagles?

I will use this medium to map out Rohr reign from September to August every year from 2016 to date so I can try to piece together why so many want to see the back of a coach who has arguably done so much to restore pride and (arguably) greatness back to the Super Eagles brand.


September 2016 to August 2017 (Period 1) – honeymoon period

Fifa rankings starting position: 67

Fifa rankings end position: 38 (a net gain of +29 places higher)

Number of games: 5 (3 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss)

Rohr’s reign got off to an inconsequential yet symbolic win against Tanzania in the last 2017 Afcon qualifier; Nigeria could no longer qualify for the tournament. It was nonetheless a morale boosting slim win that set the stage for what was to come.

Convincing wins against Zambia and Algeria followed with many fans starting to dream of the possibilities of qualifying for the world cup from a hopeless group. The love for Rohr was rising and at times critics were few. The vast majority of fans appeared to have found just who they were looking for to take the Super Eagles back to greatness.

Crucially though, even in this “honeymoon period” the seeds of hatred for Rohr (that were to come home to roost in June 2018) were starting to be sown when South Africa shocked Nigeria 2:0 in Uyo in the June 2017 Afcon qualifier.

The shortcomings that would come to continue to be cited to this day were all on display in that painful match 3 years ago: questionable team selection, ineffective in-game substitutions; poor gamesmanship, inability to modify tactics to alter the course of a game; and a seeming lack of appreciation of what losing that particular match would mean to Super Eagles fans (having never lost any competitive match to South Africa, let alone on home soil).

To make matters worse, Rohr referred to his “young squad” as partly the reasons for that unacceptable loss. Comments made in his post-match interview only seemed to make matters worse – again, something still cited to date.

However Rohr still enjoyed the support of a vast majority of Super Eagles stakeholders at this point owing to positive results from world cup qualifiers.


September 2017 to March 2018 (Period 2A) ‘til death do us apart

This was undoubtedly this best period of Gernot Rohr’s reign as coach of the Super Eagles. Results were going so well; the team was playing beautiful football; Nigeria was going to qualify for the 2018 world cup against all odds.

Gernot Rohr, the Super Eagles and all stakeholders were on cloud nine!

Fifa rankings starting position: 44

Fifa rankings end position: 52 (a net loss of -4 places lower)

Number of games: 7 (4 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses [one was due to points issued to Algeria following NFF’s administrative fiasco])

That period started with an unbelievable 4:0 victory against African Champions Cameroon in Uyo and ended with a 2:0 loss to Serbia in March 2018.


Sandwiched between those 2 matches were delicious wins against Argentina, Poland and Zambia.

Nigeria qualified for the world cup at this time and Rohr could do no wrong.

Criticisms of his methods were few and far between as the nation prepared to go to the World Cup, not to make up the numbers, but to make an appreciable impact.

Approval ratings of Rohr were very high indeed.


April 2018 to August 2018 (Period 2B) time for a divorce

Fifa rankings starting position: 52

Fifa rankings end position: 49 (a net gain of +3 places higher)

Number of games: 6 (1 wins, 1 draw, 4 losses)

This was by far the worst period of Rohr’s reign as Super Eagles coach. I look back at this period and marvel when I think of the thin line and short period that can exist between love and hate!


From a national hero just months before, Rohr had become a national disgrace in the eyes of many fans who wanted him booted out of the country after Argentina booted us out of the World Cup in quite dramatic yet perpetually painful circumstances in June 2018.

Rohr had been bossing it in Africa but against true contenders in the world stage where it mattered the most, he was found wanting.

Victory against Poland in March 2018 only papered over cracks that became obvious in losses against Serbia, England and Czech Republic. Some fans believed he would rectify these flaws but a 2 goals defeat to Croatia at the World Cup only served to confirm what many had been saying all along: that Gernot Rohr was tactically inept.

The blow that broke the camel’s back was when – with just 7 minutes to go – Argentina dumped Nigeria out of the world cup with a late goal leaving many fans (to this day) never wanting to see or hear that name Gernot Rohr again!

Rigidity, outdated football strategies, lame excuses for failure, lack of imagination, too much reliance on dual nationality players, over-reliance on players like Ighalo, lack of invention, a loser’s mentality, substitution cluelessness: all these were a few of the criticisms (rightly or wrongly) labelled against Gernot Rohr in the wake of Nigeria’s world cup exit.

A large body of fans simply wanted the NFF to show the German the exit door. But the NFF, along with a sizeable body of fans and stakeholders chose to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. They point to the fact that Nigeria had no business in the World Cup to start with (owing to the tough qualification group that we found ourselves and how poor the team was when Rohr took over). They pointed to pre-world cup results like the 4:0 win against Cameroon and 4:2 triumph of Argentina of signs that something good can still come out of Rohr’s Nazareth.

However, it is safe to say most (if not all) the previous followers who deserted Rohr after the 2018 World Cup exit never looked back even after the NFF decided to retain him as the Super Eagles coach.

These former converts will always be quick to hark back at this period anytime Rohr would have a poor result; a telling affirmation that they will never forgive him for the Russia 2018 failure.

Thus the Pro-Rohr and Anti-Rohr movements were born!

September 2018 to August 2019 (Period 3) Kiss and make up

For those fans who along with the NFF chose to stick with Rohr after the Russia 2018 disappointment, this period was set to provide hope and justification in what they saw as a longer term prosperity prospect for the Super Eagles. For those who vehemently oppose Rohr, nothing good can come out of his Nazareth. But being lifetime Super Eagles supporters, they followed the team all the same, albeit grudgingly.

Fifa rankings starting position: 48

Fifa rankings end position: 33 (a net gain of +15 places higher)

Number of games: 15 (10 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses)

The Super Eagles were back to winning ways under Rohr and for the first time in 5 years, Nigeria would be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations after Odion Ighalo had emerged as the highest goals scorer in the qualifiers.

In what really should be – generally – a happy period for Super Eagles fans collectively, a large section of fans remained very unhappy indeed and they still wanted Gernot Rohr out.

Whereas on another day, 10 wins and 2 draws out of 15 games and a net gain of +15 places in FIFA Rankings should make most fans happy, embarrassing Afcon defeat to Madagascar plus the painful last minute Afcon semi-finals loss to Algeria provided further justification for those who believe Rohr should have been thrown out after Russia 2018.

Nigeria finished this period with images of Rohr and his boys celebrating Afcon bronze whilst his detractors accused the German of celebrating mediocrity!


September 2019 to November 2020 (Period 4) No way back

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I will stretch to period to include matches that should have been played when sporting activities were stood down.

Fifa rankings starting position: 34

Fifa rankings end position: 32 (a net gain of +2 places higher)

Number of games: 8 (2 wins, 5 draws, 1 loss)

Considering Nigeria faced Ukraine and Brazil in friendly matches in this period, it is remarkable that Rohr’s Super Eagles recorded just one slim loss (to Algeria).

However, this must be the second worse period in Rohr’s reign as Super Eagles manager since the world cup eliminating loss to Argentina in June 2018.

Yes he recorded what are on paper impressive 2 wins and 5 draws but in truth, each of those results felt like a loss to a section of fans.


Having to come from behind to win teams like Lesotho and Benin is seen as being unacceptable to Rohr’s critics. His fans and most neutral observers really don’t mind: to them, a win is a win.

Then you have this new trend of drawing matches from winning positions. This happened astonishingly on 4 occasions against Brazil, Ukraine, Tunisia and Sierra Leone. The calibre of the opposition does not seem to matter and this trend (in truth) actually has even the most ardent of Rohr’s fans scratching their heads.

This period ended with renewed calls for Rohr to be sacked from Ex-internationals, journalists, bloggers and the post-Russia 2018 Rohr Antagonists.

His fans still continue to stand by him even as most of them admit in private or in public that recent Super Eagles results have not been impressive.


CONCLUSION

I think it will be wrong to conclude that people questioning Rohr’s capabilities and asking for his sack don’t know what they are saying. Rohr’s shortcomings are very well documented and they go all the way back to the very first 12 months of his reign with the needless 2:0 home loss to South Africa in a competitive fixture.

However, it will be criminal in my view to turn a blind eye to all the good things Rohr has done for the national team and how he has restored pride back to the Super Eagles brand with his professionalism and fatherly approach to man-management.

For me, as of today, Gernot Rohr has a contract with the NFF with targets set for him. Unless he fails to hit his target or he is in real danger of failure, I don’t think there are any legitimate grounds for him to be relieved of his duties.


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