By Oma Akatugba
Omasports caught up with Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr and he spoke about Bukayo Saka, the Super Eagles and the future of the team.
The Franco-German has been a subject of division amongst Nigerian football fans with some groups of people calling for his head at every given opportunity, while others have staunchly defended him.
In this interview with Omasports, Rohr reveals how he feels being the Super Eagles coach at the moment and revealed some of the players the team is looking at.
Omasports: You’ve been the Super Eagles coach for four years now, how will you rate your last four years with the Super Eagles?
Gernot Rohr: Four very interesting years for me because my challenge was to build a new team with young players to qualify for the World Cup as that was the condition to continue my contract.
I had to go to the World Cup and fortunately, we did it, so I could continue. The second challenge was to go to the AFCON which we haven’t qualified for twice before and it was important we did, and we did it also and we have a good team.
I think in these four years, is a good, young football-playing team with a good future. In these interesting four years, we built something, spirit. We built a team technically, tactically and also mentally and this is very important for the future.
Omasports: We’ve been more consistent since you joined the Super Eagles as a coach, but there have been criticisms that you’ve not won anything, do you think these criticisms are justified, or they are expecting too much?
Rohr: We won the qualification in our group. We were first and it’s such a big victory to be first in such a group with Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria who are the number 1 in Africa now. For the World Cup, we needed experience to win it, it’s not easy to win. For the AFCON, we were very close, we were at the Semifinal, we conceded in the last minute.
We were very close and we have the level now for us to want the next edition but everything needs time. We don’t play so much. We’ve not played since November so it’s difficult for the team to work and progress. Our target now is a qualification for the next AFCON and also for the next World Cup. When I see what’s happening with this team and how we are moving in the right direction, we can be very optimistic.
Daily Times: COVID-19 has shut down football, how have you been working from home, have you been monitoring players?
Rohr: Yes I had my office because there was no possibility to travel but I make phone and video calls and by monitoring the games. They played in May in Germany so I saw some of the players. I could even travel to Germany to meet some new players.
We are working and searching to make the team better. Two new players want to camp with us now. And this is very important news for us. I travelled to meet them in March. I met one of them but didn’t meet the other until three weeks ago.
We try to do a good job, work for the future, monitor a lot of games in the present, speak a lot with the players, and draw a provisional list for the possible September camping. I hope we can do something in September. We need to work and see everybody playing. Unfortunately, it’s not easy. These strict terms for travelling and coronavirus.
Omasports: Can you tell us the names of the two new players?
Rohr: No I cannot mention their names. We will mention the names when we do our next list.
Omasports: Nigeria has a good number of players with dual nationalities all over Europe. A good example is Bukayo Saka doing well at Arsenal, have you been in touch with him because he talked about his Nigerian heritage as well?
Rohr: Personally, no, but I think the NFF President has been in touch with him and I let him do his work. Me, I never beg the player to play for Nigeria. I go, watch, say hello and if they are interested, they can call me.
The desire must come from them. You cannot force anybody to play for us. But of course, he is a wonderful player that will give us more quality and we are watching.
Omasports: How about Ebere Orji and Josh Onomah?
Rohr: They are in our scouting list. We have a great scouting list. My team, assistants and I have been working on them. I have three assistants and everybody has to monitor every weekend. We’ve been working to see them on weekends. We monitor the players. Tonight, we can monitor Lookman (Ademola).
With Leipzig in the quarterfinal and we never stopped monitoring the games. Fortunately, the league started 11th of May but unfortunately in Nigeria, the league hasn’t started yet. I hope they can start very soon.
Omasports: You gave Maduka Okoye a chance to play in the Super Eagles when he was at a low level in club football and a lot of people criticised that. Now he’s moved to Sparta Rotterdam, does this mean that your decision has been justified?
Rohr: We saw him in the training and in the second team games of Fortuna Düsseldorf. He was good and young, and he wanted to come with us, so we invited him and he couldn’t feature in the first match against Ukraine but in the second friendly against Brazil.
He entered in such a great game without any complaints and he’s good quality. I was sure he could do well for us and this is a confirmation of what we thought of him which means he’s very good for the future.
Omasports: Francis Uzoho has also recovered from injury and joined the biggest club in Cyprus. We’ve had a goalkeeping problem, how important do you think these moves are to the Super Eagles?
Rohr: Francis (Uzoho) had a big injury in the Brazil game in Singapore and so he needed a long time to come back. Now an opportunity to play in the best league in Cyprus is a wonderful one for him and for the Super Eagles. It’s wonderful to see that he’s back again after the operation and he’s still very young. We want to see him playing as that’s the next step.
Daily Times: You’ve worked in Africa for over a decade, from Niger to Gabon to Nigeria, what is the difference with Nigeria?
Rohr: First difference is language. Before I spoke only French with everybody but now I’ve switched to English. Fortunately, I have a good school and I was not bad with English so it wasn’t easy for me. And then for the Germans, the German language is not difficult. You speak very good German.
Omasports: Thank you, sir.
Rohr: Another difference is the environment. Much bigger country, 195m people. The difference is the big number of players I have in Nigeria to watch, choose and a different mentality.
I think Francophone countries have to learn more discipline. I had very good collaboration, and souvenirs with Niger, Burkina Faso, Gabon. Now we have other targets and ambition is much bigger in Nigeria. Even if we don’t have big stars like Jayjay Okocha, we still have to play. There’s Osimhen now but he has to prove. I hope he will succeed in Napoli.
Before he went there, he wanted to speak to me about it and he wanted my advice. And I advised him to see the coach, speak with Gattuso and get his guarantees that he will play and not sit on the bench.
He did it and I’m happy about this transfer because it’s a big club and it’s a good opportunity in Italy to progress against strong defenders and I hope he will score so many goals as he did in France.
Omasports: Do you think having many players to work within Nigeria is a blessing for you?
Rohr: Yes and No because the work is more difficult to make a good choice. Sometimes some players deserve to come because I cannot take them because I have only 23 in my list. It’s difficult to make a choice but it’s easier to have quality in the team.
The individual quality of the players is to play together and play a quality sense of football and then the solidarity shown in so many games.
Omasports: Before now, players have complained about managers asking them for money to play for the Super Eagles. How do you deal with agents that want to pay you to pick their players?
Rohr: Of course, with the experience I have, I don’t have any problem. They all know I have nothing to do with money and all of that means there’s no influence possible, no pressure. I only take the best ones.
I speak with my staff, picking players causes a lot of arguments, I speak with my assistant coaches, medical staff and I make my choice. Agents don’t influence my choice.
Omasports: What does a Nigerian (NPFL) player need to get the attention of Gernot Rohr?
Rohr: They need to play, be in the CHAN team which is at first the A-team of Nigerian players. They need to show quality. Coach of the CHAN team is my assistant and together we take players. We’ve taken more than 22 or 23 from CHAN but immediately after they sign in Europe.
That’s why there’s a big pressure. Everybody wants to make money, bring them to the Super Eagles because professional clubs in Europe and Asia will see them. First, you have to play well. I still have Ezenwa in my list, he did well in the country and in the CHAN team and so many others who are everywhere in the world.
There are so many others who have done well. Problem is they aren’t playing for a long time to find the rhythm and the infrastructures are not good enough. There are no good playing conditions. It’s not easy for the players on synthetic pitches and with long travels.
I look at the U-20 all the time and I have the best ones from them with me to give them motivation, the chance. I have the U-17 captain now in Salzburg, Samson Tijani. He’s going to Hartberg on loan and they are in Europe.
I’ll also follow what he’s doing. We are in touch with these young players. This is the future. The right thing is to choose the best and of course, help the future by giving a chance to the young.
Omasports: Samson Tijani reminds me of Kelechi Nwakali. He’s a fantastic midfielder but he’s faced some problems with his career but he’s settled now with Huesca in Spain. Are you looking to invite him?
Rohr: I saw him in Egypt for the U-23 qualifiers for the Olympics. He’s a good player but his club career is not easy. He deserves to play more and I hope he will get more game time.
Omasports: You just renewed your contract and there are conditions attached like earning in naira, inviting NPFL players and others. First of all, are these true?
Rohr: I can’t speak about my contract. It’s forbidden to speak about my contract, but I see others talk about my contract.
I love this country, I like this job, I made some sacrifices to continue but I want us to keep playing well, play good football and win. Most important for me is the quality of work and the players.
I spoke with Yobo already, he’s a good guy, speaks French and I know he can bring his experience as a player and learn on the job because I know he’s just starting. I think it will help him like we want to help all the coaches in Nigeria do a good job. We will be together for the next AFCON and I hope for the World Cup. Everybody has to go in the same direction.
Omasports: Are you happy?
Rohr: Yes! I am happy.
Omasports: Ighalo joined Manchester United and it seems his retirement wasn’t at the right time? There are talks that the Super Eagles want him back? What’s the situation with Ighalo?
Rohr: At first I must say we are in touch all the time with Ighalo. We are very close. I understood that he wanted to stop because after the World Cup it wasn’t easy for him and I was even criticised for inviting him again.
Lots of people didn’t want to see him again but now many want to see him again. We will see. He’s a wonderful player. We have Dessers now and he’s playing a good role in Genk, scoring again with Onuachu. Ighalo is experienced and his influence on the team could be very important.
He can play together with a young one in a 4-4-2. All is possible. When you have great players you have to adapt your system to the quality of your opponent and quality of the players. We can have two wonderful goal scorers.
The moment has not come yet to go into details but I know he loves his country, he’s a wonderful goal scorer, playing good games at Man Utd but all is possible with him.
Omasports: Leon Balogun has joined Rangers in a good move that seems to have revived his career. He had a tough AFCON and didn’t play well. Do you think the move will help him get back in the Super Eagles?
Rohr: Absolutely, because even yesterday he played well and Aribo scored. He’s finding his rhythm again and is showing quality.
And I think he can come back to the Super Eagles with his form and we have Leon Balogun in good fitness. He had some problems in his last club but now I think he’s made a good choice playing together with Aribo and that’s a good chance for him. It’ll be good to see him again.
Omasports: You invited Simy Nwankwo who was at the Italian Serie B. He was top scorer at the Serie B. Are there hopes of having him back in the Super Eagles?
Rohr: We can have him and he’s doing so well. We monitored him like the others and what he did was great. He was a little bit down in the World Cup and didn’t have time to come in and be competitive with his partners but now I think he deserves a chance if he continues playing like this.
Omasports: You have done a good job in the last four years. Your win ratio is better and is impressive. You have good players, do you think it’s time to win a trophy with Nigeria now?
Rohr: My opinion is that we have the chance. We have to progress since we came third the last time. We have to progress even if Algeria is very strong. We are able to do something very interesting in Cameroon.
Of course, now, there’s the ambition to win the AFCON but let’s stay humble and not think because we have a player in Napoli, Villareal, we think we are there.
No pressure, let’s play good football, let’s play better in the defence, have no goalkeeping problems and it will be very interesting for us. We can have the ambition to win it. It can’t be easy but we have to be very humble all the time. And we have to fight never underrate opponents. It’s not our kind of job.
Omasports: The Villareal player (Chukwueze), do you think he should make a move?
He’s good in Villareal. If he can play anywhere he’s going, he has to speak with the coach of the new team at first but he has the talent to play in a big club.
Omasports: What do you hope to achieve as Super Eagles coach before you leave?
Rohr: I want to win a trophy and leave a team with a great future for Nigeria. We want to do very well at the AFCON, possibly win it, go to the World Cup again because this team deserves something. This team is working very hard.