There is an ominous silence hanging dangerously around Nigerian football at the moment, and it could be the sinister calm before a devastating storm.
Many Nigerian fans expect the Super Eagles to go on and win the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, but recent troubling happenings indicate the team may not even make it to the tournament in full strength.
The Nigerian Football Federation kicked off the chain of events with the sacking of Gernot Rohr as the Super Eagles head coach on December 12, less than a month to the Afcon.
The German gaffer may have had it coming with his sleepy, uninspiring brand of football doing little to get the best out of his players
But the timing of Rohr’s dismissal was poor, and the reasons given by NFF president Amaju Pinnick – indiscipline and substandard man-management skills – were shabby.
A better excuse to terminate the German tactician’s contract would have popped up after the Afcon should he fail to lead the team to victory as stipulated in his contract.
But Pinnick now has to deal with the stinky mess caused by that singular decision, one of which is the players’ reaction.
A quick question that arises from that fallout is this: why has the provisional Nigerian squad list not yet been released when other nations have announced their final 28-man roster?
Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Senegal, and Cameroon – the Super Eagles’ biggest foes at the tournament – have all made public the names of the players to prosecute the Afcon. But over at the NFF secretariat, nothing but silence filters out.
After Eguavoen was named the interim head coach, the 1994 Afcon winner revealed that the Nigerian camp would open by December 27. It is three days to that date, and no fan knows which player to expect in the Eagles camp.
Could there be more to this than the parties involved are letting on? Are the players threatening a boycott in solidarity with the sacked Rohr? Are they refusing to work under new coach Augustine Eguavoen?
Many others called the man to say their goodbyes. That is not an unusual bond to share, as Rohr had handed most of them their international debuts.
And in the interview he granted ESPN’s Colin Udoh after he was sacked, Rohr revealed that some of the players do not want to keep playing under the current Pinnick-led national team setup.
“I spoke with some players, and some of them told me they don’t want to continue,” Rohr said. “But I said to them: “You have to continue. Now you have Nigerian coaches, and you have to do well for your fatherland.”
Rohr must have done his bit in calming the angry players but are they inspired by the appointment of Eguavoen?
Eguavoen has gone to the top of the hill to make it known that Osimhen, just recovering from a major surgery, is ‘hungry’ to return and play at the Afcon?
Have the others made similar commitments?
Are they miffed to work with ‘Nigerian coaches’? Is that the reason Pinnick hurriedly arranged a sports editors’ meet on Wednesday, promising to hire a foreign manager next week?
Which respectable football manager agrees to take charge of a national team carrying as much pressure as the Super Eagles just days to a championship as massive as the Afcon? Has that move chipped away the players’ anger?
Pinnick may have overstepped his boundary this time, and the Super Eagles players could be keen to show him who the real boss is.
The drama could indeed unfold after the Christmas break, and it would really hammer home the point to see Victor Osimhen handed the captain’s armband to lead 27 home-based stars to Cameroon.