The Africa Cup of Nations finals is barely one month away and sadly, it is still uncertain who the manager of the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles, will be for the tournament in January and the crucial final playoffs for the Qatar 2022 World Cup billed for March next year.
We are aware of another twist in the crisis affecting the Eagles, which is the injury sustained by the current number one striker, Victor Osimhen, who is not sure of making the next AFCON finals in Cameroon. There is confusion over this development because while the club ruled the striker out for 90 days, however, the surgeon that operated on him, Gianpaolo Tartaro, says the Napoli forward will be ready for action in the next four to six weeks. “In a week, Osimhen will be able to start exercising again. In 15 days, he will be able to run and in six weeks, he will be able to train,” Tartaro said after the surgery.
This, we believe, is a huge cause for concern for the Super Eagles because whichever way, the chance of Osimhen playing the very first match of AFCON against Egypt is slim. A thinking manager should be looking at this development with a view of bringing in a potent replacement. There is Paul Onuachu of Genk who till date is yet to be properly integrated into the team.
There are two potent players, who on current form, can fill in for Osimhen – Taiwo Awoniyi and Emmanuel Dennis. Awoniyi has scored eight goals for Union Berlin in the current Bundesliga season while Dennis has been involved in goals nine times for Watford in the English Premier League.
He has four goals and five assists so far. Against highlyrated Manchester United only last week, Dennis recorded one goal and had two assists in his team’s 4-1 win. This is not a small feat by any standard. It is also uncertain how the issue of creativity in the middle will be handled to provide passes for strikers while the leaking centre defence is still a concern. We hereby charge the NFF to hasten the process of who handles the team to AFCON and the playoffs because there are a lot of thorny issues to be sorted out if Nigeria is to add to her three previous continental titles.
Waiting in the wings as a possible candidate, is a former international, Emmanuel Amuneke, who won the FIFA U-17 World Cup as a coach twice for Nigeria, once as an assistant and the other as number one coach. He has worked with about 70 percent of the current players because he also took charge of the country’s U-20 national team at some point. He deserves a chance to move the country’s Eagles to the next level. He is definitely not perfect but he is experienced enough to do a decent job of taking the Eagles to the next level. Amuneke qualified Tanzania in 2019 for their first AFCON finals in 39 years and has the experience to be saddled with this job but he has to be respected and supported like Rohr. To make an impact at AFCON and win a ticket to Qatar will be tough.
It requires planning, focus and decisive action to get the results and ensure Eagles win back the hearts of football-loving Nigerians. The current impasse on the status of the Eagles’ current Head Coach, Gernot Rohr, has continued to linger on with an uneasy calm in the headquarters of the Nigeria Football Federation.
So many issues are at stake but the federation was forced to deny an attempt to fire the embattled coach who, over five years, has done very little to advance Nigerian football. The renewal of Rohr’s contract even after displaying his ineptitude at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup remains a major blight in the current crisis facing the country’s football at the senior national team level. We are all aware that Nigeria is yet to secure a place at the Qatar World Cup finals.
The format this time is such that playoffs involving the last 10 teams in the series will produce the eventual five teams to represent Africa at the Mundial. Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Egypt, DR Congo, Ghana, Algeria, Cameroon, Tunisia and Nigeria all booked places into the playoffs where only five of these countries will emerge with World Cup tickets. On current form, Nigeria cannot be sure of beating any of these other nine teams. This is not due to shortage of talents but largely because the ‘outgoing’ manager, Rohr, failed to create the expected balance to make the team strong.
We make bold to say the Super Eagles can no longer be trusted to deliver the goods when necessary. Nigerian-born former England striker, John Fashanu, was blunt in his assessment when he said that the Eagles of today are unpredictable. Against any opposition, there is always the fear of which Eagles we will see on display. Somehow, Rohr has failed to blend these players in his over five years with the team. The Franco-German has been experimenting without looking at the development of the team for the future. We ask for a speedy and decisive action on this issue. Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, has charged the NFF to look inward for Rohr’s replacement and the sooner they do so the better for the nation.