FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiSaturday, November 19, 2016
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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A SUPER EAGLES' RENAISSANCE?

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et me start by congratulating the NFF, for pushing ahead to the logical conclusion, their plan of hiring a foreign techniser adviser or coach for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Particularly, the NFF chairman: Mr. Amaju Pinnick, deserves to be congratulated, for exhibiting uncanny leadership, in ensuring that the plan of a foreign coach for the Super Eagles, was realised. This in the face of enormous opposition from a section of the Nigerian public, the "soccer nationalists;" a section of the press; and even the government, who oppossed the plan on grounds of finance! The NFF chairman pushed ahead with the support of the NFF, and got an unnamed sponsor, who agreed to write off the costs of the two - year contract given to Coach Gernot Rohr. A big congrats to Mr. Amaju pinnick, the NFF and the unnamed sponsor for giving the Super Eagles a foreign coach! Yours sincerely, has in the past, criticized Mr. Pinnick, for what one terms: exhibition of" lack of leadership," in the administration of the affairs of the NFF. But in this case, he got it right!

The big question at this jucture is, what happened to the indigenous coaches, in the light of the latest challenges facing the Super Eagles? In other words, why is it preferable to go for a foreign coach for the Super Eagles, at this time?

The answer to the above question, is not far-fetched to any critical observer of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. The team's performance in the last six years, under the tutelage of indigenous coaches, can at best be described as a "mixed bag." While the team enjoyed a huge success, by winning the 2013 Nations' cup competition, and qualifiaction for the 2014 World cup competition, and qualification for the second round of the same tournament; the team also sufferd a never-seen-before failure by missing out of three of the last four Nations' cup competions! And the concomittant drop to number sixty -six, in the FIFA soccer ratings and to a very shameful number fourteen, in the CAF ranking! This was the same team that had such big success, in 2013 and 2014!

Why the mixed bag of success, with the indigenous coaches ? Mee thinks one or a combination of the following factors have been responsible :

Some of the indigenous coaches, lack the requisite maturity, needed to coach a team of the calibre of the Super Eagles of Nigeria: dealing with big players, as well as dealing the highly expectant Nigerian press and public, and the concomittant pressure that comes with the job;

Some of the indigenous coaches, have over the years, failed to brush-up the weak points of their coaching prowess, by way of attending refresher courses, needed to put them in tune with the latest demands of their job. As a consequence, the teams they have coached over the years, have shown the same weaknesses!;

Some others, who may be good coaches, for reasons best known to them, have compromised, or allowed themselves to be compromised, by the opportunistic players' agents and players, ridiculously, for a "pot of porridge!"

Also the NFF, has sometimes, paradoxically, workt against the indigenous coaches, sometimes for very petty reasons!

The summary of the reasons for the not -too- impressive performance of the Super Eagles, under the indigenous coaches, in the last six years, can be described as due to a lack of "professionalism on the part of the coaches and the NFF." As a consequence, the Super Eagles, fell to a ridiculously low level, not only on the world stage, but back home in Africa!

It was therefore consequent on the soccer authorities, that the application of a "shock therapy," was needed to revitilise the fortunes of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. The NFF, under the leadership of Mr. Amaju Pinnick, took the bull by the horns, by employing a foreign coach, notwithstanding the above mentioned obstacles!

Apparently, since the appointment of the foreign coach was a controversial one the NFF, heralded Coach Gernot Rohr's tenure, quietly, without the usual pomp and pageantry, by having coach Rohr, sign the dotted lines, quietly, in a five-star hotel, in Abuja, under the watchful eyes of the NFF chairman and secretary.

Coach Gernot Rohr, apparently, partially because of the above stated reason, adopted a low profile, and didn't give the customary elaborate press interviews. But however, stated categorically to the press, in a rather short discourse, that he believed in the qualification of the Super Eagles for" Russia 2018;" and also in the qualification of the Super Eagles, for the later stages of the tournament, given the quality of Nigerian players. It was clear Coach Gernot Rohr, had faith in the Super Eagles' ability from the first day of his tenure! He also impressed me, when he hammerd home on the importance of having a very solid back four. Apparently, he belongs to the soccer school of thought, like I do, that believes that: with a good attack, a team can win a match; but with a good defence, a team can win a tournament!

He also said as a German, he had a "winning mentality" and would impart same to the Super Eagles!

He also gave some of us faith in his ability, when he called up the very best Nigerian players, for his first match against Tanzania: a" dead rubber match," since both teams had been eliminated from the 2017 Nations' cup tournament. He also impressed yours sincerely, by the way he efficiently utilised the limited time, he had to tinker the team for the match against Tanzania; by organising a friendly with a local clubside: Akwa United, before the game against Tanzania. Thus over a period of three to four days, while the Super Eagles, were in camp, he saw all the invited players in action, during the course of two games.

The Super Eagles won the match 1-0, but one saw, a change in the pattern of play of the team. He utilised a highly offensive 4-2-4 formation, against Tanzania: a relatively weak team! Nigeria played with four attackers!

The match against Zambia, to yours sincerely, was to be his first major test. It was finally the start of the 2018 World cup qualification series, group's stages, in a so called "group of death." In a group like all other groups, where only the group's winner, would qualify for the 2018 World cup. Yours sincerely, with my experience over the years, realised that to win the group, the Super Eagles, needed to win all home matches and at least one to two away matches; and at worst a draw, in the last away match. A less efficient scenario, could still fetch Nigeria the ticket, but in a situation, like the one, the Super Eagles find themselves, a better level of efficientie, is always preferable.

The Zambia match, was seen by yours sincerely, as a winnable away match! Yours sincerely, watched the whole game, and saw a Super Eagles that played in an offensive 4-4-2 formation. Coach Rohr, apparently, realising that new striking sensation: Kelechi Iheanacho, couldn't be used in a 4-3-3 formation, as top 9; apparently, given his physical disadvantages, apparently, went for a twin-strikers' partnership, with Iheanacho pairing Brown Ideye, upfront. The central as of the mid-field, was controled by Ogenyi Onazi, who was the defensive mid-fielder, and Skipper John Mikel Obi, who played as the box -to-box player. There were of course the left- and right- sided wing offensive mid-fielders. Who had the double function of operating as conventional wingers, in a Super Eagles' offensive set up, while collapsing into the mid-field, in a Super Eagles' defensive set up. He played with a four-man defence.

The highly determined Super Eagles, playing without complexes, went on the offensive, from the blast of the whistle; little wonder, they were two goals up at half time!

In the second half of the highly charged, and interesting encounter, the Super Eagles, initially, and surprisingly, took their feet off the gas pedal, and allowed the Zambians to come back to the game and even scored a goal. At this juncture, Coach Rohr, not wanting the three points to be lost, impressed yours truly, by reacting well; by substituting Brown Ideye, with Anderson Esiti, a mid-fielder, and thus changed Nigeria's pattern of play, to 4-5-1. The philosophy behind this pattern, was to keep ball possession and initially take the wind out of the sails of the Zambian offensive thrusts. This objective was realised. The later introduction of Ahmed Musa, was to ensure that the regained ball posession of the Super Eagles, could possibly be translated to a third goal. This objective was not realised, but the Zambians didn't threaten the Super Eagles again, as the introduction of Abdullahi Shehu, in the place of Ogenyi Onazi, further strengthened the Super Eagles' defence. The Super Eagles thus collected all three points on that day!

The Super Eagles were quite impressive on that day; more especially, the tactical choices and substitutions of Coach Rohr, were perfect!

The match against Algeria, was to be the biggest test for the Super Eagles, according to analysts. The Algerians were ranked third in Africa, and until two months ago, the top ranked African side!

Coach Rohr, like fellow Nigerians, expected victory. Yours sincerely missed the first eight minutes of the game. Apparently, Victor Moses, missed a sitter in the opening minutes of the match. But when yours sincerely started watching, Victor Moses, had started dictating the tune for the Super Eagles against the Algerians! He was everywhere, like the rest of the team. Apparently, Coach Rohr, emphasizes mobility, on the part of the players. This makes them difficult to pin down by opponents. The team played in a 4-4-2 formation, with Victor Moses, leading the onslaught on the Algerians. With his deft touches, incisive passes, quintessential dribbling runs, excellent ball control, superb ball vision and an uncanny audacity and alacrity, he almost single handedly took out the Algerians! With all due respects to the other players, who also did well, Victor Moses, or rather, "Holy Moses," was the stand-out performer, and was deservedly, the man of the match, in my humble assessment! Coach Rohr, apparently, having taken note of Victor Moses' talent and his present run of form, at his clubside, apparently, asked him to constantly run on the Algerian defence, whenever he had the ball, as a way of destabilising them, which he did very well and certainly contributed to Nigeria's victory!

One must however, point out certain technical deficiencies noticed in the Super Eagles' play pattern. Like in the Zambian game, they took their feet off the gas pedal, in the second half, apparently, due to fatigue, apparently, as a consequence of the increased mobility emphasized to them, in their playing pattern, by Coach Rohr. They allowed the Algerians come back to the game. They also gave up a lot of space, in the second half, under pressure from the Algerians; this resulted in the lone goal of the Algerians. Was this due to fatigue; or loss of concentration? Coach Rohr, no doubt took note, and would make the necessary corrections.

At this point in time, with a maximum six points in the kitty, things are looking quite pretty for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. The qualification ticket hasn't been gotten, but please God, we are apparently on the right path. Coach Gernot Rohr, appears to be a good coach, with a lot of technical and tactical insights, and above all, like a typical German, he emphasizes, discipline, hard work and a winner's mentality to the Super Eagles!

A friend said to me after the Zambian victory, "Nigeria, has the players to get the World cup ticket." Yours sincerely, couldn't agree more. With regards talent ,the Super Eagles, have plenty of it: Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, is one the best, if not the best in Africa, presently; the defence line, appears solid. The competition for places in the central defensive department, is so much that" Field Marshall" Kenneth Omeruo, has been moved to the right back position. Their is of course the "recalcitrant" Elderson Echiejile, one of the best left backs in Africa. The center- half back, William Troost "the rock" Ekong, is burgeoning to be a very usefull asset in that position. Of course not to forget "Commander General" Leon Balogun, at left-half back. The tactically disciplined defender, from the Budesliga.

The revamped mid-field department, has Ogenyi "the angry wasp" Onazi, who chases his opponents to 'hell,' as defensive mid-fielder and engine room; and the experienced and highly tactically erudite Skipper John Obi Mikel, as box -to-box player. The Super Eagles, have the following wing offensive mid-fielders, in their 4-4-2 formation: The highly skillful and ubiquitous Victor Moses; the supersonic jet-heeled Ahmed Musa; the 'dangerous' and highly skillful, dancing "Krekel": Alex Iwobi; of course the burgeoning Simon Moses. The striking department is not short of talent, certainly, not by any stretch of the imagination. There is Kelechi Iheanacho, the offensive prodigy of Manchester City fame, a striker described by Coach Pep Guardiola, as a "natural goal scorer;" Brown Ideye, still has his bag of skills intact; Odion Ighalo, is very much there and of course the up and coming Isaac Success Ajayi. Certainly not to forget the other beautiful and equally talented players, who make up this beautiful team: Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Emmanuel Danjuma, Musa Mohammed, Kingsley Madu, Stanley Amuzie, Abdullahi Shehu, Anderson Esiti, Nosa Igiebor, Agbo; and the other beautiful players, who due to limitations of the human memory, are not mentioned.

In summary, back to the title of this piece: A Super Eagles' Renaissance ? Mee thinks yes! But the players should keep their feet firmly on the ground, remain level headed and with eyes firmly fixed on the target! With gradual, steady, steps, "Russia 2018," will please God, be a reality!

" Anyi bu nkwa!"

Isssssssseeeeeeeh!!!!!!!!!

UP SUPER EAGLES! UP NIGERIA!!!!!!!

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