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Enyimba: Confederation Cup capitulation undermines Super Eagles home-based clamour

09:00 BST 23/05/2021
Enyimba, Rohr, Keshi
Gernot Rohr has come under fire for not reckoning with NPFL stars, but the thrashing of the People's Elephant in CAFCC proves he is right to be aloof

One of the running battles Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has had to fight over the course of his tenure concerns his apparent indifference toward players in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

Quizzed on it, his frequent refrain has been to the effect that, before attempting to dislodge their foreign-based counterparts, they should first endeavour to stand out on a continental stage: be that the Africa Nations Championships or Caf’s club competitions.

It is not a rationalization that is fool-proof, of course, but it is rooted in a semblance of logic.

Compared to Europe, there is undoubtedly a gap in the quality of competition that coaching – inadequate as it is in the local leagues – cannot address.

If the Super Eagles are to compete, both on the continent and against opposition from Europe and South America, they will do so by leaning on their best talents playing at the highest levels.

However, this view is not shared by a section of the nation’s press corps, who have on that basis warred with the German relentlessly.

The thrust of their point of view appears to be that, by ignoring the local league, Rohr is devaluing it and denying its best legs the exposure they need to make the quantum leap from good to great.

Proponents of this point of view will readily cite the late great Stephen Keshi, who in 2013 led a team with six home-based players to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations; if he went that far and achieved success on the back of it, the contention goes, then why can’t Rohr?

This, however, is an argument that fundamentally misunderstands what the job of a national team coach even is.

Hint: it is not developing the quality of play in the local league. That responsibility lies with the administrators, both of the league and of the country’s football as a whole.

However, even allowing that Rohr could (not should) throw the NPFL a bone as some sort of labour of love, the initial premise – that there is quality in the league just waiting to be mined – is not as strong as it at first appears.

Case in point: Enyimba, who are the country’s sole remaining representative on the continent.

The Aba-based club leads the country both in prestige and trophy haul, and remains a recognizable brand on the continent by virtue of back-to-back Caf Champions League victories in the noughties.

In terms of player quality, the People’s Elephant not only boast depth, but arguably have the finest collection of talents in the league on average – if any club should make the case for locally based players to be given chances with the national team, it should be Enyimba.

However, they come into their Caf Confederation Cup quarter-final second leg against Pyramids FC 4-1 down from the first leg. After taking an early lead in Cairo, Enyimba capitulated in spectacular fashion, with their players seemingly trying to excel one another in bumbling amateurishness.

The highlights made for a grim watch, and unsurprisingly went viral on social media, to much derision.

Teams will have rough days at the office on occasion, of course. That is the nature of competitive sport.

However, performances like these are not the exception; as a matter of fact, all too often Nigerian clubs are made to look utterly inept before the watching world, especially on their travels, with basics of tactical organization and technical coordination eluding them at key moments.

Is it fair then to expect – to demand, even – that the national team coach wade in and address this himself?

If we are being honest, it is a problem rooted far deeper than Rohr should go. And that really is the first step to addressing the issue: a degree of honesty.

When former Enugu Rangers coach Imama Amapakabo stated, during his stint in charge of the locally based team for the Chan, that the players available to him lacked tactical nous, he was widely panned by the same members of the press corps, who sought to characterize his candour as an excuse for his inability to succeed with the team.

He was right though: there is a proper crisis of coaching at various levels of Nigerian football, all the way down to the grassroots, which must first be addressed before fingers can be pointed at Rohr.

That is an undertaking for the country’s football administration, and it is to them that the ire of the uber-patriotic press corp should be directed.