What would you say was the high and low point of Genot Rohr’s reign as Super Eagles’ coach?
As a human resource and management professional, I would say from the angle of performance, Genot Rohr and his crew was given a target and they met their target exceptionally, by a 100 per cent. No one can tell me that there was any target given to Rohr that he did not meet. And they need to be commended and not what we saw. Okay, you would win some matches and lose some, that’s football. But the question at the end is where you are? He was given a target to qualify for the Nations Cup and he met that; beyond that, he was also required to qualify for the World Cup which he did. And as well, he was required to qualify for the Nations Cup in Cameroun, and he did that. And he was about to qualify Nigeria for the 2022 World Cup. He should have been commended, because he would go down in history as one man that met his target 100 per cent.
Soccer fans and analysts have severally accused Rohr of not being sound technically especially considering the way Nigeria exited the last two tournaments. Do you subscribe to that view?
When we talk about technically sound or not technically sound, what do we mean by that? The end justifies the means. For a man that was given a target, say get to this height, and got to that height, I don’t think you should be saying he lacked that technical capacity. I don’t think every coach would be as sound as Jose Mourinho. One coach will have one capacity, the other one another. For instance, look at Arsene Wenger, when he was at Arsenal. A lot of people felt he was too old and not doing well. He had Thierry Henry, Kanu Nkwankwo and other great players, and they were winning matches. As soon as those ones moved on, and a new set of players came in, they were no longer winning as before, but they usually qualified for top four. You can’t say that now. It’s not just about the brand of football that you play but are you getting your results? That is actually what is important. For me, the issue is not whether Rohr was ‘technically sound’ but he put the team together and they were getting results. He was able to manage the boys, manage the locker room, you would hardly hear of any conflict. Am sure conflicts would happen but he did not allow it to become an issue. I don’t know if you watched the last match that the Eagles played in Lagos, you could see that Osimhen played his heart out, and that kind of performance would not have come unless you had a coach by the side that was motivating you. For a coach that managed that kind of team I wouldn’t say he is not technically sound. Before he came, where was Nigeria? Nigeria was performing woefully, he came and he was able to steady the ship. If you recall, we had lost a series of matches and it looked as if we were not going to qualify for the nations cup, but when Rohr came, he was able to qualify Nigeria, even topping the group in the process. You will recall that we were deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player but Rohr still managed the team to qualify after we had missed the last couple of AFCON. If he was not technically sound, how come we finished top of that group? Rohr may have been lacking in some areas but he was able to complement that in some other ways, and he got the results, which is key. And for me, that is really what matters.
One of the things Rohr’s critics held against him was that he was never interested in developing local talents?
My brother, if you give me a target you give me the instrument and the freedom to achieve that height. When you begin to interfere and condition me to do things your way, who are you going to blame? You look at it from the angle of performance, which meant he was given a KPI and if he was given a KPI it meant he needed to get to a particular milestone and he met that. You look at the people that are going to help you achieve that target and you engage them. The best players for Nigeria are in the Diaspora, not in the Nigerian league. And whenever you are going for AFCON you are not going with 100 players you will go with 25 or any number approved. It means you are going to go with the best and where do you find the best? You find them in Europe, who are you going to compete with, other players in the Diaspora, players who are technically sound. You look at the NPFL and you have a situation where the league is not run professionally, it is not running as smoothly as it should be. You discover that our NPFL teams go to the continent and they can’t qualify from the preliminary stages. And you wanted Genot Rohr to come and pick players from the local league? I don’t think any coach will do that. And when you do that you are going to have problems. Are you going to ignore an Iheanacho, or Osimhen or Paul Onuachu, and go and pick a player from the NPFL because you want to prove a point? If you are about getting results, you ensure that your workforce is the best, and that it is able to compete with the best in the world. Getting players from abroad is right and let me also remind you that these players are also full blooded Nigerians, and they have every right to be Nigerians at home. And if you have better players in the local league they should prove it, they should simply go out there and win matches, not like the last CHAN qualifiers where we lost to Togo and you expect any proper coach to feature those players in a major tournament like the AFCON? We should be very truthful with ourselves. When we give a man a target, we should allow him to do his work and in the case of Genot Rohr, he got his result. So, why sack him? Though his approach was not appreciated by many, he actually got his results.
You’ve talked so much about meeting targets. If he was meeting targets why did the NFF sack him?
For me, the NFF actually made the wrong call. I don’t know why they did that. I see a situation where the NFF bowed to pressure. I appreciate the current leadership of NFF, Pinnick and his excos, they listened to the voice of soccer fans, but at times, a leader should sit back and analyse the situation and make decisions based on sound judgment. But NFF sacking Rohr was not the right call considering that we were a couple of weeks away from AFCON. And then you sack the shepherd and leave the sheep. And you bring an Eguaveon, you give him a very difficult task, and you expect him to succeed? It is coming very late and this is the problem with Nigeria, we fail to prepare. For anyone who is coming to take charge of that position, you should give him a minimum of six months because probation in any organization requires a minimum of six months. You don’t employ somebody and expect him to perform in two months. Don’t expect anything glorious from this nation’s cup because you are bringing an Eguaveon to come and manage a list that was drawn up by Rohr that he cannot really influence. What do you expect from him? And tomorrow he’ll tell you I was not ready. We keep making this mistake over and again. The players have been together and you sack the coach, how do you think it will tell on the players. It might affect them negatively, and I think a mistake was made. NFF needs to apologise to Rohr, apologise to Nigerians, apologise to the players.
Cuts in: How will the NFF apologise when Pinnick himself said Rohr was sacked to avoid a disaster at the AFCON?
There were so many stories flying on the internet and they are not true. What I will always tell a leader is to spell out the goal correctly. And you do your assessment based on those key performance indicators. And the question should be, have you met this milestone; not by the rumours you hear from the side. The coach has his emotions and he might say, I prefer to work with an Ighalo or an Osimhen. He knows his team and he knows who he will work with. Rumours fly around a lot and as a leader you must not subject yourself to them. You can listen but your decision should not be based on hearsay. You should listen and also do your own assessment especially in the termination of appointment; it should rather be based on performance. And for a coach that has met every target set for him, it was very wrong to sack him.
In December FIFA ranking put Nigeria at number 36 and that has been Super Eagles position since the beginning of the year. Does that speak well of our football?
The first question you should ask is where Nigeria was before Genot Rohr and his crew came? We were far behind, we had missed two nations cup and Nigeria was not even doing well. In fact, we were becoming irrelevant football wise in Africa and globally. After Keshi was sacked and some other person’s took over, we couldn’t qualify for two AFCON tournaments, but Rohr’s coming in 2016 changed all that. We were able to qualify for the last tournament and we finished with a bronze medal. That was commendable. And we are going for the next one in Cameroun. You can only wait for them and expect success. When you look at the boys, they have been playing together as a team. More so, they are doing well at their various club sides. I believe the Super Eagles would have won the tournament with Genot Rohr in charge, but that cannot be said again. It’s not where we are currently but where we were coming from. Did we step up, yes!
Do you think Eguaveon can make a success out of the AFCON considering the short time he has with the team?
I will not rule out Eguaveon, he can still make a success out of the present situation in spite of the short time he has to work with the team. I don’t expect much from this outing. I say this due to the circumstances surrounding his appointment. And to make a bad case worse, the NFF announced the appointment of a new coach a week before the start of the tournament. I look at the action of the NFF and the steps they have taken so far, and I wonder whether this is the best approach for a team preparing for a better major tournament. One thing that is critical is focus, consistency and peace of mind for any team going for a major tournament. You will want a situation where every player would want to concentrate. Now, you are going to a tournament and a single friendly has not been played by Eguaveon. And you expect them to go out there and shine? Of course, he is going to come out with his own formation, has it been tested? The wise thing to have done was to retain the former coach and see what will be the outcome. But you bring a new coach less than a month to a tournament and you expect him to perform magic? Is Nigeria the only team going to Cameroun? The average Nigerian thinks that victory is our birthright. You have the likes of Algeria, and Senegal, they also want to win. They are better prepared than Nigeria. And they understand that Nigeria did not prepare very well. They also understand that we have a new coach that does not fully understand the team. And if we meet them in the knockout stage we bank on luck to see us through. Eguaveon will be depending on the advice of Joseph Yobo and Salisu Yusuf, who is just returning to the team. And for a team that wants to succeed, the coach, players must create a bond and blend. I feel Eguaveon will be going to the nations cup to experiment. And you know the implications of experimenting in a big tournament. I really think this is a set up to rubbish Eguaveon’s record. When you consider the time he spent with the Eagles as an interim coach, his record was not a bad one. I wish him all the best but I will tell you that the time is short, the decision was not well thought out. When the tournament starts, Nigerians should be ready to accept the outcome. I wish the Eagles a better outing than the bronze medal in Egypt. For the new coach coming on board, soccer fans will just have to live with it because the deed has been done. NFF will really need to change their approach if we must succeed because they are going about in circles. We really need to change.
A new Super Eagles coach was announced. What do you make of the appointment?
The appointment of Jose Pesiero as coach of the Super Eagles is welcomed but it is unnecessary and uncalled for. I believe we shouldn’t have gotten to this point. When he starts work and produces the same result like Genot Rohr, is the NFF going to fire him and bring in someone else? Are we running a hire and fire system? When you operate such a system you won’t have consistency in your system. Many of the players are asking questions. There will be a change of philosophy and formation. You are bringing a new person who is coming with a philosophy and theory. You have teams who have grown over time by maintaining a particular pattern of play. Sometimes, you might need to overhaul your team. Sometimes, you’ve had teams with a lot of changes, what was the level of their results? You look at the Super Eagles from the days of Clemence Westerhof, we went to the world cup and got to the second round. With all the change in coaches over the years, can you tell me the one that surpassed Westerhof’s record? It means that a change of coaches is unnecessary. And now, within four months, we’ll be having three coaches. And if he doesn’t do well you fire him? It’s disappointing and disheartening that the NFF with the bright minds they have will go back to the same mistake of the past that brought the nation no good. If he does well, I will give him my support, even Eguaveon, if he does well I will also support him just like I did to Rohr. But I will still tell you Rohr should have been allowed to lead the Super Eagles to Cameroun for the AFCON.
Let’s talk about the local league. How do we attract sponsorship?
For the local league, I think we need to firstly create an environment where we respect our own local business persons. Yes, we have people who are ready to sponsor the league but you need a deliberate effort from the Sport Ministry and NFF to get this done. We’ve had this several times that we are not getting sponsors, but what kind of message are we getting from the LMC? We have seen some effort from the current LMC but is that enough? We need to do more. First of all, we need to ensure we create a calendar that we understand. The league can be suspended indefinitely, no one knows what is going to happen and then as a businessman, how would you put your money in that kind of system? That is what is happening. The LMC has a responsibility to make sure we have a system that is as transparent as it can be. You need to set up a system; you need to set up a league that people can understand and is transparent; they know the calendar and when matches would be played. When you have a match that is going to be disrupted by thugs, how do you want people to go to the stadium? In fact, the average journalist is careful when you go out with your expensive equipment to cover a league match and you don’t know if it will be damaged. And some of these gadgets cost a lot. I was once involved Ina tournament and I took my media crew there as part of my support to grassroots football, and I remember running in one direction and my camera man running in another direction. I hid in a corner and was praying that my camera man and his equipment were safe. Thank God we were able to get out of that venue unhurt. I looked at the situation and I asked myself how this will encourage indigenous businessmen? We need to ensure that there is adequate security at the centres. We also need to ensure that there is a calendar that is running according to plan. And at that point you will have more participation. When you get the system running appropriately, you’ll naturally get more sponsorship. You have many people who want to partner with the LMC but they can’t with the way things are at the moment. NFF is trying in its partnership with MultiChoice where the league is televised, and you can also watch matches on your phone. We need to invest more in that.
What would be your advice to sport authorities?
My message to the NFF will be for them to think of how they fared in 2021 and the previous year. You employed a coach and you gave him a target and he met the target and his contract was terminated. Personally, the NFF has an explanation to make beyond saying they were not comfortable with the way he was handling the team. I am saying this because other coaches will come. Don’t set a negative precedent. The NFF needs to review what they’ve done in the past year. Where healing is required they need to provide healing. For now, some people are still pained at the termination of Rohr’s contract because it was unjustified, wrongly timed, unnecessary and uncalled for. NFF needs to apologise to Nigerians, Rohr and his crew and the coaches association. The issue will be in the players mind and they will be wondering, ‘if they can treat our leader this way, will they not do the same to us’? A lot of Nigerian born players want to play for the country because of the stability that Rohr brought to the Super Eagles, and out of the blues, we went back to our former ways.