By Patrick Omorodion
Rohr: Six weeks ago this column signed off with the issue of July 23 titled ‘NBBF crisis: NOC’s ignoble role’. This was as yours sincerely was on an assignment in Cairo, Egypt to cover the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The NBBF crisis is still not resolved as the NOC, though having a new set of leaders with Engineer Habu Gumel returning as president, keeps mum as if all is well. And this allows some impostors pretending to be in-charge to still prance about feeling secured even though their backer, the former sports minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung has been swept away.
Before the commencement of the AFCON, Nigerians were sceptical about the chances of the Super Eagles and their scepticism was heightened by their 0-2 loss in the last group match to the minnows from Madagascar.
Qualification for the round of 16 prompted the federal government to draw up two groups of delegation to go cheer the Super Eagles in the next game against perennial rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon who have climbed over the Nigerian side on three occasions to the title.
Their first was in 1984 when they beat the then Green Eagles 3-1 in the final in Abidjan. The second time was in Morocco in 1988 which they won 1-0 after Henry Nwosu’s goal was controversially disallowed. Before they did it again on Nigerian soil in Lagos in 2000 after a penalty shootout.
The first delegation which was led by the Speaker of the House Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele as members.
Cameroon almost spoilt the party for them as they led 2-1 in the first half until the Eagles put two quick goals behind their famous Ajax FC Champions League goalkeeper, Andre Onana to snatch victory at 3-2 to continue their dominance over the central Africans in the last two years.
This victory spurred the dollar rain, with Governor Sanwo-Olu pledging $5,000 to each of the 23 players, an action that drew wide criticisms, especially from some sections of the media who felt that the money could have gone into fixing other areas of Lagos begging for attention.
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The second delegation led by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, curiously had the former sports minister, Solomon Dalung as a member. The presence of Dalung was greeted with a boo because he didn’t believe in the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF leadership and primed them for failure.
It was as bad as he even failing to present the Super Eagles participation budget to the presidency. Yet when he found himself as a member of the delegation, he started ranting, promising to mobilise support in Egypt for the team, just to impress President Buhari that he was working and deserves to return as minister.
The Eagles loss to Algeria in the semi-final checkmated the garrulous Plateau-born administrator as he sneaked out of Cairo unnoticed. Otherwise, he could have claimed his presence helped the Eagles beat Algeria.
The third-place match was important, not because it allowed the Gernot Rohr-tutored side redeem its pride with a bronze in the kitty, it helped Odion Ighalo who nicked the loan goal to emerge top scorer of the competition and equal Rashidi Yekini’s five goals in the same competition which the Eagles won in Tunisia in 1994.
Back home, the call by fans for the sack of Rohr intensified. Ironically most of those calling for his sack never gave the team any chance to progress beyond the quarter-finals. But Rohr’s employers have told all that they are not in a hurry to let him go because he still had a year left on his contract.
The German tactician has even alluded to the fact that he could build the ‘young’ team into a formidable squad if he retains his job, dismissing insinuations that there is a one million dollars sack clause tied to his contract.
President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick added a new dimension to the sack story, stressing that it was the handiwork of some desperate Nigerian coaches who want to take the job. He said in an interview that “Some Nigerian coaches who are so desperate to take over the Super Eagles are those engineering people to mount pressure on the NFF to sack the coach. But we won’t give them that chance. We know them, and what they are capable of offering the nation as coaches.
“Nobody can push us around again on issues concerning appointment of coaches. We gave some of them the chance to prove themselves in the past but failed woefully.”
Those calling for Rohr’s sack however, fail to realise that after the 2013 edition of AFCON which Nigeria won under an indigenous coach, Stephen Keshi, the Eagles couldn’t qualify for the next two editions in 2015 and 2017 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon respectively. And that the same Rohr ensured the Eagles qualified this time around and also qualified as the first African team for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Nobody wants to remember that Clemens Westerhof started with a bronze at the 1990 edition in Algeria after a woeful first game which the Eagles lost 1-5 to the host who they went on to play again in the final. From that silver in 1990, he dropped to bronze in 1992 in Senegal before he won the 1994 edition. Because of continuity, Westerhof was able to build a formidable team which put up a respectable performance at their first World Cup that year.
But for naivity, the team could have betean the Roberto Baggio inspired Azzuris of Italy and gone far in the competition. Frequent changes of coaches for the Super Eagles will not help the team to gel and be formidable again like they were under Westerhof.