Nigeria’s remarkable run to the World Cup was a victory for the pragmatic approach the NFF and Gernot Rohr had essentially been forced into. Age had taken the previously-prominent Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo out of contention. Injuries to the classy Alex Iwobi and Ogenyi Onazi – contributed to the selection of an unconvincing squad.
And yet off the back of that, a hugely encouraging platform was built in the summer. What eventually cracked Nigeria at Russia 2018 were the limitations involved in making fast play a team’s main focus, plus a need to retain possession. If the country’s new favourite individual is to realistically improve upon a great qualifying series and summer and take advantage of home fixtures at AFCON 2019, it’s time for him to revisit the formula he had such faith in developing.
Out with the old
Gernot Rohr has to drop Mikel Obi, who remained regular and reliable throughout the qualifying series, who Rohr demonstrated his ruthlessness and ambition that’s such a strength. The selection of a right-footed player in the middle of the pack in a system that encourages width occasionally kept Nigeria short of that very quality and, particularly in the context a team that needs to evolve beyond set-pieces, there’s little point retaining a 32-year-old in a team that needs to peak in three years.
Gradually introduce the new
Making multiple, immediate changes to his squad would have been as unnecessary as it would reckless. It would have risked damaging the momentum and the admirable culture that Gernot Rohr has carefully built.
Yet the fit-again John Ogu and Etebo recall gives cause for encouragement, and over the coming months there are talents of a similar age and calibre who, largely owing to strengths that the present squad lacks. Lokosa will also demand a chance in leading the attack sooner than later.
Shift the balance of play
Rohr needs to build his team around the strengths of players able to excel at set-pieces and to ensure his starting XI was blessed with significant pace – perhaps providing the greatest possible margin for perfection – then he also has two years in which to nurture alternative traits.
In Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, Southgate has a front three with the potential to rival almost any in international football.
When Lokosa was dropped despite being the only realistic option as a sophisticated, ball-playing Attacker – something obviously missed when Nigeria struggled to gain shots – his international career was effectively noticed and was tipped to replace odion Ighalo. Lokosa is now the likeliest long-term solution to that role, with Everton’s promising Henry Onyekwere a further alternative who will be needed.
In those circumstances, Simon Moses would be a harsh yet likely casualty from the starting XI. However, during the summer, Tyronne Ebuehi and Etebo were Nigeria’s only game-changing substitutes. Omeruo’s presence there – eventually alongside that of the improving Ndidi– would provide Rohr more encouraging options that would rejuvenate the Super Eagles after a terrible outing in Russia.
This article was written by Alex Ndace; he tweets via @AlexNdace