Before the swathe of withdrawals, the German already planned to try out new players, but does this bode well for the future?
One of the criticisms thrown at Gernot Rohr has been in his rigid approach and unwillingness to fix what isn’t necessarily broken.
That modus operandi isn’t bad in itself, but there’s always a danger in sitting on one’s hands, expecting the individuals on the pitch to find solutions to in-game hurdles.
The German boss got an earful for Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup elimination by Argentina for his basic game management, despite Odion Ighalo missing a huge chance that could have made sure of the Super Eagles’ progress.
In the 4-4 draw vs Sierra Leone last year, the 67-year-old was reprimanded for an inability to effectively help his team across the line as they lost a four-goal lead on home turf.
Again, the experienced coach’s inadequacies were the refrain, although others chose to censure the players for not taking enough responsibility after half-time.
Having said that, the biggest criticism that typifies Rohr’s approach has been an inclination to lean on a select group regardless of their form and performances. It prompted complaints from Nigerians following the continued call-ups for Elderson Echiejile and Ogenyi Onazi in the past, while the German’s Ahmed Musa bias has been unmistakable.
In the same vein, the unwillingness to extend an olive branch to Anthony Nwakaeme — hasn’t played for Nigeria since November 2017 — and Simy — last Super Eagles appearance came in 2018 — for so long, despite their generally good performances for Trabzonspor and Crotone respectively beggared belief.
Be that as it may, the German surprised observers by including the towering Crotone forward in the initial 31-player list for this month’s Cameroon friendly having, more or less, ruled out every possibility weeks earlier due to being contracted to the lowly Pythagoreans.
At the time, Goal looked into the possibility of a different approach to facing the Indomitable Lions, by leaving out established forwards like Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Iheanacho in favour of either uncapped or returning players like Simy.
Injuries to Nigeria’s most expensive player, Crotone’s top scorer and a host of other stars included means that idea may have been shelved. However, Rohr continues to express the inclination to utilise new players regardless.
“This friendly against Cameroon is an interesting game because we are going to have some of the new players, since some of our regular players will not be available due to injuries, and it is not easy to have everybody at this period because it is also the offseason period,” the Nigeria boss told the Caf website. “It is a big test and an opportunity to test the new players.
“Of course, we are not going to play for the result in Cameroon in Austria, but it’s an opportunity to see our boys and see something different with our systems against a very good team that will host the next Africa Cup of Nations.”
Further injuries and withdrawals in defence — Semi Ajayi, Ola Aina, Tyronne Ebuehi, Zaidu Sanusi and Kevin Akpoguma have all pulled out — since the aforementioned interview has left Rohr with a threadbare squad in Austria, but the German remains committed to his original plan.
“With this test match, you can see that so many players are not here and it’s an opportunity for us to try other players and see new faces who would have the chance to show something,” the German spoke after Tuesday’s training session.
While the unavoidable withdrawals have forced Rohr’s hand, there’s still a feeling he may have gone down this route having invited so many fringe players to the team in the first place.
Without a doubt, it’d have been bizarre to include so many peripheral stars, only to cut them out of the team eventually.
It remains to be seen how the 67-year-old makes lemonade out of lemons, but it presents some excitement given the unpredictability of the side that may be sent out from the off.
Regardless of how the two encounters with Cameroon pan out, the fact Rohr is not only willing to trial new individuals and systems but seemingly prepared to make some of them mainstays in the Afcon qualifiers represents progress.
Of course, the veteran manager will have to prove it’s not a one-off, but the possibility that he may change his basic rigid nature certainly has to excite the average supporter. Until he does, however, the jury remains out on the trainer’s predisposition to change.