The Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced a few weeks ago that the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations has been shifted for a year. This decision was taken due to the disruption in the football calendar caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Several Leagues and competitions worldwide were suspended for more than three months because of the outbreak. Although the games have returned, the three months break has led to the rescheduling of some international competitions.
Already, Euros 2020 and the Copa America have been postponed till 2021, while the Olympics was also delayed for a year.
With major changes to the calendar, CAF was left with no choice than to postpone their competition. Two round of matches in the qualifiers have only been played, and with no international football until September, it was always going to be difficult to for the competition scheduled initially for January and February to go ahead.
And when the organisation announced that AFCON wouldn’t hold until 2022, it was a decision that was widely accepted by everyone. It’s an outcome that must have delighted Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr.
The German tactician is a man that has divided opinion since he was appointed as Nigeria’s national team manager in 2016.
While he has received praises for the stability he has created, the former Bordeaux manager has also come under criticism for the team’s approach to games, treatment of local league players and even his record in major tournaments.
But despite the mixed reactions, the 66-year-old was still offered a new two-year deal in May which would make him the longest-serving Super Eagles manager in history by the time it runs out.
However, there are caveats attached to the new deal, and one of them is winning the next AFCON. Rohr staying for the entire duration of his new contract depends on Nigeria’s performance at next AFCON.
Under normal circumstances, The Super Eagles would have been getting ready to round up their qualifying campaign.
But the delay means Rohr gets more time to work on the team and make necessary changes. The German has always played down Nigeria’s 2021 AFCON chances before it was postponed because the team is still young.
In fairness, he has a point as Nigeria have one of the youngest squads in the world with an average age of 25.8
The squad’s inexperience showed at the 2018 World Cup where they were just four minutes away from reaching the second round.
They reached the Semi-Finals at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt, but the team’s lack of tournament experience still showed a little bit.
With appearances in two consecutive major tournaments, the 2021 nations cup in Cameroon would have been the perfect opportunity for Rohr and his players to see if they are finally ready to win Nigeria’s first continental title since 2013.
But with the tournament postponement, it gives some of the players more time to gain experience from playing against African oppositions.
Rohr also gets to spend more time with new players, Cyriel Dessers and Kingsley Ehizibue, who should have made their debut in the clash against Sierra Leone.
The likes of Ovie Ejaria and Ademola Lookman have also reportedly switched their international allegiance to Nigeria, and the extra year allows Rohr to try out these stars in the team.
The goalkeeping department has been a major issue since and it is one Rohr needs to resolve before 2022. The number one position has changed hands many times since Rohr arrived, but the German needs to decide on his first-choice goalkeeper, and the extra year gives him more time to arrive at a decision.
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Francis Uzoho and Maduka Okoye are likely to battle it out for the spot. They both moved to new clubs recently and will be eager to impress the German tactician over the next 18 months.
Ola Aina, Shehu Abdullahi and Jamilu Collins are the only natural full-backs in Nigeria’s squad, but the next year gives Rohr more time to scout for back-ups.
Aside from more time to prepare, the new date for the next nations cup gives Rohr more leeway in his contract conditions even if he fails to win the competition.
Had the competition gone ahead as scheduled, the former Bayern Munich star would probably have been sacked if Nigeria failed to win the tournament.
But with the World Cup slated for November 2022, it’s highly unlikely Rohr would get the boot eight months to the Mundial even if Nigeria fails to win her fourth continental title.
Although the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) sacked Shuaibu Amodu twice six months before a World Cup, Rohr is unlikely to suffer the same fate as long as the Super Eagles are competitive in Cameroon.
It’s a shame that the biggest showpiece in Africa won’t go ahead next year, but the decision to postpone it for another 12 months is a win for Gernot Rohr.