COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Coach Gernot Rohr made no secret of his desire for the return of the Chelsea man, who last week elected to call time on his international career. The lure of another tilt at the Africa Cup of Nations, said the 64-year-old, could cause a change of heart.
The unspoken implication of this line of reasoning is that Nigeria will be at next year's tournament in Cameroon. That is, of course, not a given: not only have the three-time African champions missed out on the last two editions, they currently face a three-point deficit in the qualification series for the 2019 edition, following a surprise loss at home to South Africa in 2017.
Caf's decision to have a 24-team Afcon right away has somewhat increased the margin of error, of course, and it is hard to envisage a scenario whereby the Super Eagles finish below both South Africa and either of Libya or Seychelles. Yet, nothing can be taken for granted: Libya have points on the board already, and one has to imagine that the double-header against the Knights will decide the group.
That imbues the trip to Seychelles with added importance, and yet Rohr's squad is unavoidably lacking in homogeneity.
With captain John Obi Mikel unavailable, and right-backs Shehu Abdullahi and Tyronne Ebuehi injured, there are a number of wildcards who have been thrust into the mix. The invitation of Kelechi Nwakali seems the first concession to the coming post-Mikel future, even though the youngster is not exactly in the same mould. He is a lot more mobile, but understandably lacks the discipline of the elder.
Yet, on his day, those differences can galvanize the team in an altogether different way, even though it is unlikely he will start right away.
The same can be said for Semi Ajayi, the former Arsenal youngster who now plays at Rotherham. With both Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong established as first picks, and Kenneth Omeruo as first back-up, the idea seems to be for Ajayi to be useful down the line.
That is what makes this squad so hard to assess: there is no thematic consistency to it. World Cups usually are the end of a cycle, but there is no sense of the next phase of building kicking off: while Elderson Echiejile has been axed, the duo of Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi remains, in spite of the fact all three wound up in the same situation: on the fringes of the team during the World Cup.
If the idea is that too much upheaval is bad for chemistry, how is Rohr deciding who goes and who stays?
Perhaps he wishes to give them one last shot at redemption, although considering how much rope he gave them (Onazi in particular), that is hard to understand. That aside, even at the World Cup, it was clear this was a team in need of freshening; in need of an injection of spontaneity, of excitement. There is some of that here, but not enough for it to feel like a line drawn in the sand.
There is obviously a bit of fear at play: the defeat in Uyo against South Africa was blamed on a lack of experience, and so we are stuck in some sort of halfway house.
In any case the twin inclusions of Henry Onyekuru and Samuel Kalu ought to provide perhaps the most crucial missing element from that loss: pace and directness from wide areas.
Bafana Bafana were confident in keeping a very high line and narrow shape, with no threat going in behind and no speed to burn them on the flanks.
The former probably would have made the squad to Russia anyway had he been fit, and now looks mentally ready to step into a major role for the national side.
As for Kalu, whose recent move to Bordeaux has thrust him into the spotlight, he arrives with a great deal of expectation on his young shoulders, and directly addresses a need.
Crucially, they give Rohr the chance to revert to the 4-2-3-1 shape that is his bread and butter. It is also the system in which the players reportedly are more comfortable, and with the profile of Seychelles, not only are excuses not expected, but they will not be tolerated.