The Super Eagles coach has eschewed merit and a level playing field in favour of keeping his favourites happy
COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
It is becoming increasingly clear that, with Gernot Rohr, there is not a level playing field for everyone in the Super Eagles .
That in itself is not a problem. As like as not, some players are more central to the success of a team than others, and will come to command special treatment.
Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly let star man Eric Cantona get away all sorts of breaches of club etiquette; the key was that, not only did he realise the talismanic effect of the Frenchman, but the rest of the team did too.
Crucially, Ferguson was able to do this without leaving any doubt as to his continued authority. It is one thing to do what one likes, and quite another to be allowed to do what one likes.
It is this balance that Rohr has failed to strike in the national team, especially as relates to captain of the side John Obi Mikel.
The Tianjin TEDA man is conspicuously missing from the squad for October’s double-header against Libya, and has yet to feature at all in qualifying for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Super Eagles Press Officer, Toyin Ibitoye, revealed that the player has been excused due to a lack of match fitness, and will be available for the next round of fixtures.
Which is all very well, but that is the same line that was given when he withdrew last time out against Seychelles.
Interestingly, while the implication is that he is unfit, he has featured for his Chinese clubside three times in the past month, most recently this past weekend, and completed 90 minutes on all of those occasions.
This leaves only one conclusion: for some reason, Rohr is allowing Mikel pick and choose what games he wishes to be involved in. A little bit of indulgence is not the worst thing in the world, but this is verging on absurd.
The former Chelsea is not officially retired from international football, neither is he unfit as is claimed. Moses Simon, who has played a grand total of 49 minutes for new club Levante since fully recovering from the injury that kept him out of the World Cup, is back in the squad. One of those two could have done with being excused, and it is not Mikel.
It calls to mind the rather unfortunate revelation that Rohr had to persuade Mikel and the now-retired Victor Moses to play in the positions they fill with conscientious diligence with their clubs. That, really, should have been the end for Mikel as well.
It isn’t though, and it is starting to seem like Rohr’s preference not to get involved in the politics of the squad, instead leaving it to the captain(s), has bred a degree of impunity. It is also the latest in a series of selection missteps that tarnishes the ideal of merit and fairness which is crucial to the unity of the Super Eagles.
The 64-year-old is manifestly stubborn, and will stand by his favourites even in the face of underperformance, while discarding others readily with less than a fair crack of the whip.
As an instance, Ogenyi Onazi continues to get called up to the national side, and continues to get selected, even to the detriment of more talented players. Is the Trabzonspor man so good a midfielder that it justifies playing the superior John Ogu at centre-back?
In fact, Onazi lost his place in the side on the eve of the World Cup, as his startling four-year denudation of form came to a head in the friendly against England. What happened in the intervening period to warrant his return to the starting line-up in the very first match after the Mundial? There is little rhyme or reason to it, seemingly.
Isaac Success, for so long in limbo in his career, has this term enjoyed an uptick in form as his fitness finally holds. Immediately, he has been handed a route back into the team. Meanwhile, a player like Anthony Nwakaeme, who has caught the eye so far this season, was given one chance (out of position, as it turns out) in a dead rubber against Algeria last year, before being kicked to the curb.
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Ikechukwu Ezenwa continues to be the sole home-based component of the side, even though he is firmly second choice – and that only because of a disciplinary indiscretion on the part of former Ghana international Fatau Dauda, else he’d be third – at Enyimba behind the hugely impressive Theophilus Afelokhai. Here, Rohr had the chance to send a message by making a merit call in a low-risk position, seeing as Francis Uzoho is clearly first-choice anyway.
Instead, he persists with Ezenwa, having clearly decided is the only goalkeeper in the Nigeria Professional Football League with whom he can work.
It is accepted that managers will not always select based on ability, and will sometimes prioritize the effect of certain individuals on the collective. However, Rohr seems unable to find a balance; unwilling to, even. Too far in the other direction, and players and fans alike are apt to wonder why the rules are not the same across the board.