In 2016, behold, Gernot Rohr, seen as a grumpy, uninspiring and old-fashioned manager applied and got the job relatively quickly, taking over the hot seat.
An appointment that added fuel to the fire of a scorned Nigerian team, with fans tagging him with the same aforementioned adjectives mentioned above in this paragraph.
Onwards to the first two qualification games for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Super Eagles easily defeated Zambia and Algeria.
Many, including myself, felt the team did the nation proud, and on the pitch, were regaining their fearless & exciting style of play. Many would say also, that nothing really changed from the short stint of Sunday Oliseh to that of Rohr which in some cases, is partly true and partly false. The mental strength of the team was and always has been there even. The ability to score goals was also there. What was not there, however, was the ability to cohesively defend and attack as a unit (especially from set pieces) and play from the back without succumbing to high pressing teams. The balance of long-ball directness and short, free-flowing passing was also missing. Under Rohr, it can be easily debated that these issues, whilst not hundred percent solved, have been highlighted and amendments have been made. Slowly, identity and newly found ability to be more, but not over, ambitious with the ball is coming to fruition. I will focus on the attacking improvements mainly.
Here is Rohr’s scorecard;
Nigeria 1 Tanzania 0 (Uyo: AFCON Qualifier)
Zambia 1 Nigeria 2 (Ndola: WC Qualifier)
Nigeria 3 Algeria 1 (Uyo: WC Qualifier)
Senegal 1 Nigeria 1 (London: Friendly)
Corsica 1 Nigeria 1 (Ajaccio: Friendly)
Nigeria 3 Togo 0 (Paris: Friendly)
Nigeria 0 South Africa 2 (Uyo: AFCON Qualifier)
Nigeria 4 Cameroon 0 (Uyo: WC Qualifier)
Cameroon 1 Nigeria 1 (Yaounde: WC Qualifier)
Nigeria 1 Zambia 0 (Uyo: WC Qualifier)
Algeria 1 Nigeria 1 (Constantine: WC Qualifier)
Argentina 2 Nigeria 4 (Krasnodar: Friendly)
Poland 0 Nigeria 1 (Wroclaw: Friendly)
Serbia 2 Nigeria 0 (London: Friendly)
Nigeria 1 DR Congo 1 (Port Harcourt: Friendly)
The 4-1-2-3/4-3-3 Hybrid + Counter-pressing and high-pressing
This natural transition of the 4-1-2-3 to 4-3-3 isn’t too new the Super Eagles. Victor Moses & Moses Simon + Odion Ighalo.
This formation also enables Nigeria’s front three to pressure and play an almost full press whilst Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi play the defensive midfield (DM) roles and skipper John Mikel Obi is there to pounce on any loose ball in the attacking & defensive pockets of play. Obi brings what I’d call, the ’12th man’ or ‘counter-pressing machine’ element to the team. His work-rate, determination and moments of brilliance make him arguably the most vital component of the team, especially during clutch moments. He also brings more passing understanding and set pieces taking abilities that Joel Obi, John Ogu, Mikel Agu and a lot of other Nigerian midfielders simply cannot bring. The full backs (Shehu Abdullahi and Brian Idowu) help push the wingers forward to enable such formation to be used effectively with being exposed should be ball be lost. Both occupy positions horizontally.
Counter-press: pressing in the moment of defensive transition. Can occur anywhere on the pitch.
High-press: pressing in the moment of defensive transition or organisation. Can only occur in the attacking thirds of the pitch.
The 4-3-3 enables high and counter pressing scenarios. Numerous times the shape would shift into a 4-1-2-3 or 4-2-1-3 when the team decides to drop off. Onazi, Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo were the busiest pressers during the World Cup qualifiers for Nigeria. Alex Iwobi was more of a smart and short presser. His runs were short, compact and angled in a way that the opposition center backs could not pass between themselves. Victor Moses is without a doubt one of the best defensive wingers in the world, he will pressure full-backs and center backs into tricky situations, with and without the ball. His pressing was most noticeable vs Algeria and Cameroon.
The build up to the Moses’ goal vs Algeria, in which I feel was one of the best examples of the 4-3-3 transition.
The match versus Algeria, was one of the best matches Eagles had played in a long time in terms of the quality build up play of goalscoring opportunities by taking advantage of defensive channels, Under Oliseh, a fair-share of attacks were not being created and goals were more down to individual skill. The former was due to lack of shape in the build ups & lack of sensible decision making. Whether Rohr can take credit for this, ultimately, is for the readers to decide.
I’ll be the first to admit Rohr is no Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho if we are talking tactics. However, for some fans and critics to say he has NO tactics whatsoever, and just comes to work and hopes for the best every match, is very naive. His methods for me compensate certain teams, like Nigeria. Talented but temperamental and handful of egos within the squad. Not too much needs to be done to improve Nigeria’s national football team on the pitch, as these players have been playing with themselves for some years in national team. His football is built on organised but ruthless wing play (Victor Moses provides both, Iwobi provides the ruthless side, which creates the ‘wonder moments of matches’, like his goal vs Zambia in Uyo, therefore the Arsenal youngster will never be left out of a 23-man squad, or even a starting 11 as long as Rohr is here). His pattern allows all 10 outfield players to almost contribute in some attacking sense. The Eagles, a team with great dynamism in play, will ( and have) greatly benefit from such methods. He wants his teams to have the ball and are willing to win it back quickly and all costs (via counter & high pressing). If we add this and his father-figure like man-management methods, a lot of good can come from it. Rome was not built in a day, but the Super Eagles do not need to be as big as Rome to prosper, nor need 10 years to rebuild. All is needed is improvements, physically, technically & mentally which has provided.
Cut Rohr some slack and give him credit, even the smallest, where it is in his tenure. This is a marathon, not a race. Wish him the best in Russia 2018.