On Tuesday, Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr released a 24-man list of players that will take on the Benin Republic and Lesotho in their final two 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers.
The Super Eagles need just a point from either of the two games to seal qualification but go into the matches with no room for error following what happened last time.
Nigeria blew a four-goal lead against Sierra Leone in Benin before playing a boring goalless draw in the return leg in Freetown.
Rohr came in for criticism over his tactics and choice of players for the two games, but with the hope that he has learnt from his mistakes.
However, the 67-year-old’s latest list shows he’s unwilling to learn or adapt, which could be a problem. Although Rohr’s list included familiar names, it was not without controversy.
The biggest controversy on the list is the omission of Paul Onuachu. The Genk player is Nigeria’s best striker in Europe this season with 25 goals and two assists, but Rohr could not find a place for him in the squad.
Although Rohr has publicly expressed that he’s not a fan of Onuachu’s style, his omission is still a surprise, suggesting the former Bordeaux manager may have a personal problem with the ex-Midtjylland star.
This is because irrespective of whatever Rohr thinks about Onuachu’s style, there’s no justification for leaving him out of the squad given the season he’s having.
And when it comes to a team’s style, we’ve seen coaches adapt just to fit in a player who is in form. Spain did it with Diego Costa, while Gareth Southgate also called-up Dominic Calvert-Lewin after his brilliant start to the season with Everton.
Coaches invite the best legs, and this season, Onuachu is arguably Nigeria’s number one player in Europe. The decision to also place him on stand-by also suggests it’s not about the 27-year-old’s style.
It won’t be unthinkable to say Onuachu missed out because he’s not the most lively player in camp. The tall-striker has a shy personality, and he’s always silent in camp, which might have led to his omission.
While Onuachu was not included in the squad, Rohr handed a first call-up to Umar Sadiq. But his invitation is another surprise, given Sadiq also has a similar but inferior style to Onuachu.
Sadiq has scored 14 goals and provided five assists for Almeria, which means his place in the squad is rightly justified.
However, given he’s similar to Onuachu but less effective, it reinforces the belief that Rohr has a personal problem with Onuachu and not his style.
Another controversial name in Rohr’s list is the inclusion of Ahmed Musa. The Super Eagles captain has been without a club since he left Al-Nassr in October and has no business in the squad.
Although Rohr has clarified that Musa won’t play in the two games, it came after a public outrage against his invitation.
The former Leicester City man should not have been invited in the first place as it sets a bad precedent, and it’s also unfair to players that have performed well at their clubs.
Musa’s invitation probably has to do with the fact that he’s just seven games away from becoming Super Eagles most capped player. But international caps should not just be handed out but be earned.
The ex-CSKA Moscow man is not the only name that should not have been on the list. Shehu Abdullahi is another player whose call-up raises a question.
Although he is one of Rohr’s trusted players since the German took charge as the Super Eagles coach, it’s still a surprise that he was called-up, especially as one of the midfielders.
The Nigerian started his career as a defensive midfielder, but he has played as a right-back for the Super Eagles, and that’s also his current position at his club.
And with Frank Onyeka available, Shehu’s inclusion is questionable. Could it be just to fulfil the quota selection, which is a thing in other Nigerian sectors?
Shehu’s call-up as a midfielder also reignites the same issue Rohr was criticised for last time the Super Eagles played Sierra Leone.
The former Burkina Faso manager invited five midfielders, but only three play in that role at their respective clubs.
Semi Ajayi is a centre-back, but Rohr keeps selecting him as a defensive midfielder, and it has failed to work in all the games.
Joe Aribo and Oghenekaro Etebo play as central midfielders in an advanced role, but there is no perfect replacement for them, which could be a problem again.
The two players were obviously tired in Nigeria’s first leg clash against Sierra Leone, contributing to the capitulation in the last 15 minutes.
While Wilfred Ndidi’s return is a boost, Rohr’s choice to call up two defenders as midfielders show he did not learn anything from Nigeria’s last two games.
It’s also a shocking decision that Reading’s Michael Olise was placed on standby. The 19-year-old is highly-rated and is eligible to represent France, Nigeria, England and Algeria.
Having already been capped by France at the youth level, it would’ve been wise for Rohr to hand him a call-up and ensure he is capped in one of the two games.
You May Also Like: Meet The New Super Eagles Invitee Michael Olise
Although there’s no confirmation on whether he has decided to switch allegiance, his name on the standby list shows he’s willing to play for the three-time African champions.
However, for all the flaws in Rohr’s list, he did well by inviting John Noble of Enyimba. The German has always come under heavy criticism over his treatment of domestic league players.
Rohr has always stuck with the foreign-based players despite calls for NPFL representations in the squad. But Noble’s invitation could be the start, especially with the league now on TV.
The 27-year-old impressed Rohr after his heroics helped Enyimba beat Rivers United in the CAF Confederations Cup play-offs.
He’s not likely to play in these games, but his invitation is a good thing for the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) players.
To roundup, Rohr’s latest list hasn’t helped his situation with the fans and critics, but that may change if the Super Eagles can fly past the Squirrels and Crocodiles.