Monday, December 6, 2021



Before we crucify Gernot Rohr

Before we crucify Gernot Rohr
October 27
09:59 2021

The coach of the Nigerian National senior football team, the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr, has come under intense criticism, by those who are not convinced by his tactical and technical competence, to propel the team to the height many of those who witnessed the golden era under the “Dutchgerian” coach, Clemence Westerhof, which culminated in the team’s qualification for the World Cup for the first time in 1994. The criticism became more intense, following the embarrassing, 0-1 home loss to the Central Africa Republic, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere Lagos, in one of the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, on the 8th of October 2021.


The loudest song on the lips of those critics has been, the condemnation of his perceived aversion to the idea of including, in the national team call-up, of players who ply their trades in the domestic league. This according to them is because, the Franco-German tactician does not stay in the country, to monitor the Nigerian league for him to be able to identify abundant raw talents that could be moulded into world-beaters. And this, to be honest, is as insidious to the growth and development of the game in the country, as it is poisonous to the relationship between the coach and soccer fans in the land. But can we put the blame entirely on the coach, considering the fact, he comes from an environment (Europe) where things are done in an orderly manner? No. Let us see why.

One of the most amazing things about how Europe and the rest of the civilised world do things, is their sense of timing. Imagine an event like the FIFA World Cup, European Cup of Nations, UEFA Champions League, etc., that is to take place in about 5 years from now, would have had its kick-off time set, this year; and nothing, I repeat, nothing will change it by a millisecond! Yes, they are that organised and efficient.

But the reverse is the case, when it comes to Africa, especially Nigeria, despite our pretence to be members of the 21st century civilised global community. The age-long stand-off between European football clubs and the Nigerian Football (Association as it were) Federation, NFF, when it comes to releasing players for national team assignments, has been one issue that has agitated the minds of football stakeholders in the country. And some pundits identify the disparity between the timing of our league and theirs in Europe; hence they recommend the changing of the calendar, January-December to June-May. For the records, Nigeria and indeed, the entire African soccer calendar used to run from January to December, unlike most of the European leagues that run from June to May of the following year, safe for a few countries like Norway and a few others.


The Confederation of African Football, CAF’s flagship International football tournament; the African Cup of Nations, takes place between January to February, biennially. And it is usually, a thug of war, between European clubs and African national football bodies to have the former release players for the soccer fiesta, despite the latter, having the support of the world football-governing body, FIFA. This is so, even though, the competition takes place when the European season is usually on a mid-season (winter) break.

To avert the country-versus-clubs face-off, the game’s continental governing-body in Africa, CAF, came up with the idea of ensuring that all its affiliate national associations streamline their season with that of Europe, with a view to being on the same page with the “most advanced continent”, “footballistically”. And to the best of my knowledge, most African countries, if not all, had succeeded in aligning their football calendars with that of Europe, except Nigeria. And CAF on its own had tried to organise its tournaments at such a time of the year when, it does not clash with the European season, even though the outbreak of Covid-19, last year, seems to have upset all the arrangements. For instance, the African Cup of Nation billed to be hosted by Cameroon this year(2021), has been shifted to early next year.

Meanwhile, the non-alignment of the seasons, between Nigeria and Europe also affects the Nigerian domestic football in such a way that, the season of every of the participating teams get disrupted or derailed, whenever it is summer transfer window in Europe, when the Nigerian season would still be midway. Players, in search of greener pastures, travel out for trial, without permission or consent of the clubs, their employers, thereby throwing the team into disarray, especially when such an absconding player is a key member of the starting eleven.


Another thing is that, by the time the CAF Champions League of confederations Cup starts, the teams which countries run June-May calendar would have been in a highly competitive mood, with a high level of fitness, while Nigerian clubs participating in such competitions rely solely on warm-up matches, which in most cases, are not enough to give them a head start, needed to compete with teams coming from better-organised leagues, like the North African countries.

It became so much worrisome that it was resolved that, the Nigerian domestic league calendar be made to run concurrently with that of Europe, during the era of Colonel Abdulmumini Aminu (retired), (1997-1999) as the FA Chairman. The Nigerian Football Association (as it was then known) set machinery in motion to ensure that the league was run in an abridged version to enable the league to conclude its season, and eliminate the undue advantage the other teams from the continent have over Nigerian clubs.

It is, however, appalling to note that, about two-and-a-half decades on, we are yet to get it right. Meanwhile, we subject players to the untold hardship of having to travel from places like Maiduguri, Jos, Kano, Bauchi and Kaduna, to places like Lagos, Aba, Port Harcourt, Ibadan and Akure, playing two league matches in a week. The players whose lives are barely insured are, on a yearly basis, subject to this kind of rigours and dangers on the potholes-ridden Nigerian roads, passing through armed robbers, bandits and kidnappers-infested forests, from North to South, East to West.

For close to a decade now without a corporate sponsor, just for the need to align the Nigerian league season with that of Europe, the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, have been running, ensuring that players from some teams play on an empty stomach. When the 2020/21 league fixtures were jam-packed, just so, they could finish in time for the NFF to be able to forward the names of all the teams representing Nigeria in all the continental competitions, every keen follower of the domestic league, including yours sincerely, thought, we are gradually inching closer to, getting it right. The ultimate fixture of the season was brought forward to Thursday 5th of August, 2021, when Akwa United Football Club of Uyo was declared champions of the league. The “Promise Keepers”, as Akwa United FC is fondly called by their fans, had since been eliminated from continental engagement, due to match-rustiness – lack of competitive engagement, prior to their involvement in the preliminary rounds. Only Enyimba International FC of Aba is left standing strong, on the continent, as Rivers United and Bayelsa United got eliminated from CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation’s Cup respectively, last weekend. Rivers United, following their elimination from CAF Champions League, have a second chance to, once again, have a shot at continental honour, as they will now join Enyimba, to compete in the 2nd tier, CAF Confederation Cup.


It is almost three months down the line when the league season was concluded, yet nobody is talking about the date of commencement of the new season. As it is Customary of the NFF and the League Management Company, LMC, they would start, first with postponements before the commencement, when the league kicks-off, usually, way behind schedule. They would have postponed like 3 or 4 times before the league actually commences. Sad, but true. So if by now, we have not even started postponements, when are we going to start the league?

If the organisational side of the game is this shambolic, then I shudder to ask; which league does Gernot want to monitor? In which stadium do the “advocates of home-based inclusion” want the coach to monitor players.

Please do not get it twisted; I am also a believer in the need to build our national teams on the strength of the domestic league. But I am also a realist. This current bunch of charlatans in charge of our football administration do not have what it takes to make that happen.

Before we crucify the Franco-German Coach, we need to take cognisance of the bunch of charlatans we have at the helm of affairs, who act as if they are administering herds of cattle that they, the herders can just wake up and change the direction of grazing paths, without anyone questioning them, even if it is irrational.


Were Rorh to be in the country for the past two-and-a-half months when they had ended, what would he have been monitoring, what would he be doing? Watching the Just-concluded “Big Brother Naija”? Oh, come on…..!

A league that has neither a date of commencement nor an official sponsor; yet, that is not an enough-food-for-thought, for football administrators in the land. All you see is the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, globe-trotting, [like one of my colleagues, Emmanuel Olonade said earlier this week] “doing photo ops with injured Super Eagles, meanwhile, you never can see him watch Enyimba or taking selfies with any of the players in the local league”. That is the má who is supposedly the number one marketer of the game in Nigeria, domestic league inclusive.

Gernot Rohr cannot be paid to be monitoring the inefficiency of the NFF, LMC and other affiliate bodies of the beautiful game, which Amaju Pinnick and his co-travellers have made a mess of.

Before you you can compel Rorh to stay put in Nigeria and do the job he was hired to do, Amaju and Co., must do their own part, by ensuring that our domestic league is run with a business-like approach that it deserves, to make it rank among the top leagues in the world.


Adebayo Abubakar Writes from Ilorin. You can reach him via 08051388285 or [email protected]


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