Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, spoke to journalists in Lagos on Wednesday after sealing a new deal with the national team, ’TANA AIYEJINA was there
How much of input do you have in the Eagles’ training programme for the World Cup?
I have a lot of input in it because I asked for friendly games with teams with similar playing patterns as our opponents in the World Cup group – Croatia, Iceland and Argentina – and we are on track. At the draw for the World Cup, I met with the Poland coach, who also have an African team – Senegal – in their group and we agreed on a friendly. The second match against Serbia was also my idea because the Serbians play like the Croatians. The other games – first of which is against DR Congo in Abuja or Uyo – will allow us to give more chances to other players to play and see what they can add to the team. We will have an initial list of 35 players from where we will pick the final 23.
Of concern to Nigerians ahead of the World Cup are players who are not active in their clubs – such as Ahmed Musa. Do they risk not making the final cut for the World Cup if they don’t change clubs?
We are in the mid-season transfer window and they have the opportunity to change clubs. Ahmed Musa is likely to go back to Russia to play for his former team – CSKA Moscow – which is very good news to me. I believe because they like him in Russia, he will not find playing time hard to come by as is the case at Leicester City now. It is also a good thing because the World Cup will be played in Russia and Musa would have got used to the weather before the tournament. We saw it already with Brian Idowu, who came into the Eagles at Krasnodar against Argentina. Having players playing in Russia is encouraging for us. Kelechi Iheanacho also played his club’s last game and he did well.
Although he has not been playing regularly in recent weeks, he gave his best for the team. Picking players for the World Cup is dependent on what they do for their clubs – if they don’t play, they can’t make the national team. So they have to play for their clubs. We also have another player – Tyronne Ebuehi – going to Benfica from his former club ADO Den Haag. I have told him that the club is good but he must play there if he is hoping to make the World Cup team. If players don’t play for their clubs, they can’t be in the right rhythm for the World Cup.
On Alex Iwobi, what did you discuss with Arsene Wenger about the issues he had at Arsenal?
There was a little problem at Arsenal for Alex and I think the reaction of the coach was good. He talked to him and corrected him then he gave him another game to play immediately after that problem. I think Alex played well in the match. Wenger is a coach who loves young players and he gives them the opportunity to excel. We ensure that we build a good relationship with the coaches of the clubs where our players are so that we can communicate about challenges and other things that may be needed. I communicate well with Leicester coach Claude Puel because of the players we have in his team. We are watching all our players and we want to step in when they need help to ensure that they have a sense of belonging – which is why we are looking at getting a bigger club for our right back Shehu Abdullahi, who is in Cyprus. I have a good relationship with Paul Le Guen, the coach of (William) Troost-Ekong and (Mikel) Agu at Bursaspor and I think they interested in signing Shehu from his Cypriot club.
What do you think of the CHAN team in Morocco?
The CHAN team is made up of mostly players who have been with the team in the past. Players like (Ikechukwu) Ezenwa, (Dele) Ajiboye and Ifeanyi Ifeanyi have been with the main Super Eagles team and have played a few friendlies with the team. It is important for them to have that competition because they didn’t play any game in three months after the league went on break. In the first match, they missed the rhythm of the game but as the competition progresses; I believe they will get better. The competition is an avenue for the good players among them to make the World Cup team. I saw a couple of young players in the team – as young as 16 years – who can fit into the plans for the future as they develop, and it is wonderful to see them in this competition.
Are you worried that injuries to forwards Henry Onyekuru and Moses Simon may disrupt your plans for the World Cup?
Yes, Henry is injured but it is not as bad as would need a surgery. I think he should be back in two months and by then – along with Moses Simon – we will make sure they get their chances to prove themselves worthy of the World Cup team if they play well in their clubs. It will be difficult to invite them to the national team if they are not playing regularly for their clubs.
Do you have a replacement for Simon?
Simon has been performing very well in the last games he played for the team – especially in the two games against Cameroon. I have confidence in him because he is quick and he is a good winger, who can play on both flanks. He is also working hard on the defensive part of his game and he is improving in it. He is also working on making a move to England but I think there is a problem about transfer fees or some other things. He currently plays regularly in Belgium and I am happy to have him in the team.
What is the major factor for you in team selection – is it the current form of the players or you just keep faith with the bulk of players from the last game?
The first aspect I consider is the fitness of the players and what they are doing at their clubs – we need players who are playing. The second aspect considered is competition for the various positions, which is good for the team. Don’t forget that we have a young team, who took us to the World Cup. The players who made the World Cup qualification possible are the first options. If anybody wants to come into the team to displace any of them, the person has to be better.
The Nigeria Football Federation officials are dreaming of winning the World Cup. Realistically, what is your target in Russia?
The first target is to come out of the group. That is the most important one. That means we must finish at least second in the group. The target is quite difficult because we have very good teams with us in the group. Croatia are one of the most technical teams in Europe – they have very good midfielders in Barcelona and Real Madrid and their strikers play in Italy – so the first game is really important but we can try to grind out a result. The second game against Iceland is another tough game. They sent England out of the 2016 European Championships – and we know England are one of the best teams in the world – so the match against them will not be easy. They may not be a technical side but they play as a team – like us – and that will make them difficult to beat. And the last game against Argentina will also be very tough. The fact that we beat them in a friendly will make them come harder at us because they will not want a repeat of that.
You just signed a new two-year contract with the NFF. Does this fire you up to do more for the Eagles?
My new contract is similar to the old one – if we succeed, we will continue and if we don’t succeed, we will have to go.
How will you rate your experience with Nigeria given that you have coached in other African countries in the past?
What I have in Nigeria is a crop of very good young players who are hungry for glory, which is lacking in the other countries I have previously coached in. In Gabon, there were just 1.5 million people while in Burkina Faso I had a good team but not so many young players were in the team. In Niger, they have hungry players but the structure there is not really good. So I will say I have enjoyed coaching in Nigeria because there are hungry young players – most of them playing abroad. What we need to build in Nigeria is the structures – such as good pitches – to ensure that we grow these young players from the home front. But I think with the plans of the NFF towards that direction, more will be achieved.
The goalkeeping department has given you a cause for concern and at a point it was mooted that Vincent Enyeama might return to the team. Are you still looking at bringing Enyeama back to the team or the problem has been solved?
It is true that we have a problem with the goalkeeping position. When I arrived, we had Carl Ikeme, who did very well. Unfortunately, he is not here at the moment. After him, we had Daniel Akpeyi, who did well against Algeria in Uyo, and after which he had been unlucky. After Akpeyi we had Ezenwa, who did well against Cameroon and Algeria. Apart from these three goalkeepers, we have tried a couple of young goalkeepers like Francis Uzoho, who played in the second half against Argentina in Krasnodar, and did very well. He is playing regularly in the U-23 team of his club (Deportivo La Coruna). I will send my goalkeeper trainer to the club to work with him for 10 days. We are in touch with him and we believe he is one for the future in the position. Uzoho is big and fit and he has the mind to be a good goalkeeper. We also have Dele Alampasu, who is not playing so much in Portugal, but is also young. We will also send our goalkeeper trainer to Portugal to work with him for a couple of days. We are also waiting to see what happens with Enyeama. He hasn’t played for a long time now due to injury and when he returned, there are two other goalkeepers ahead of him so he has to change his club and play if he still wants to come back to the team.
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