•Happy Mikel, Ighalo are playing again
After his return from the recently concluded AFCON tournament in Gabon, where he worked as a television pundit for a France-based television station, Nigeria coach, Gernot Rohr has been speaking on the growth of African football, Cameroon’s emergence as African champions, Super Eagles’ 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and more. Excerpts:Any hope for players in the Nigeria Football Professional League featuring in the Super Eagles?
We are constantly looking to improve the quality of the team and it doesn’t matter if you play in Nigeria or Europe. If you have what we want in a player then you ‘re good enough to play for Nigeria. To help the players, we all must do our bit so that they would be able to compete with their counterparts from Europe. The condition of the pitch here (Sagamu) is not good enough for good football. I still have lots of games to watch but I am sure there are lots of good players in the domestic league.
They just need a little help to focus on what is very important and that is their football career.
What was your impression of the 2017 AFCON tournament in Gabon which you attended without the Eagles?
We saw a good tournament at Gabon 2017. I was at AFCON in Gabon and I now realize what it means to participate at the tournament. We also want to play at the AFCON and we must do everything possible to be there. I’m focused on the AFCON because Nigeria cannot afford to miss out of the competition again for the third time in a row. It’s a big competition to celebrate African’s best teams and Nigeria cannot afford not to be there when the best teams are counted. We will be there but in order to do that, we must eliminate South Africa who are a really good team. I saw some very good teams but I think the best team (Cameroon) won the competition. I think we’re interested in this team because we have to play them in the World Cup qualifier and I’m sure we can beat them when we meet.
The level of the game in Africa is getting higher and higher. I saw very good teams. I saw very technical teams like Burkina Faso where I worked only a year and half ago and they have improved tremendously. I saw big favourites fall by the way side like Ivory Coast. All the teams were well prepared as we saw Zimbabwe and Guinea Bissau and Togo who did relatively well, However, like I said, the best team won the competition and that was Cameroon.
What would you say was wrong with African coaches as the two finalists in Gabon were handled by foreign coaches?
Whether you’re foreign or local, what is important is the experience that you have of your working environment. We saw Hector Cuper who’s vastly experienced and we saw Hugo Broos who won the cup and he is experienced too. The level of coaching was very good at the AFCON and the level of teams was also very good. We saw good organization, good preparations and a good synergy between coaching and playing staff and that’s what I want to have in Nigeria
Cameroon won the tournament and the Super Eagles will be meeting them in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in August. What are your plans for them?
I’m happy for Cameroon and I’m happy for us because we now have to beat the champions of Africa in order to qualify for Russia 2018. We need good preparations. We didn’t have any games while Cameroon had six games at the AFCON. They were together for almost a month and half for preparation and tournament proper so they have an advantage over us. We didn’t have that but we must make do with what we have and prepare as best as we can because there will not be an acceptable explanation for failure if we don’t qualify.
We have two friendly games lined up, all things being equal, and we intend to use these games to test new players and to bond together. This will help forge a spirit of togetherness in the team which is very important
I hope the players realize how difficult it is going to be and give all their best as they have always done. Two games against Cameroon but first we focus on South Africa
We have to be very careful not to focus too much on Cameroon because we are not playing them until the last week of August. Before then we have an equally important game against South Africa in the AFCON qualifiers in June. I understand that Nigerians are concerned about our progress to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but don’t forget that we have not qualified for AFCON since 2013 and the crucial game against South Africa is in June, so I want to focus on that.
Our games against Cameroon won’t come up for another six months and a lot of things can happen this time. We will get ready for them, play them accordingly when the time arrives. We have six months between now and August when we play them. Between now and then we are going to play two friendly games as well as a qualifier against South Africa. If we do well in those games, it will help our confidence against Cameroon.
How do you feel about Mikel and Ighalo moving to China?
It’s fine because they are playing now. The two of them going to China didn’t play so much in their clubs and I’m happy that now they will have chance to play more often. They play good football league with very good players from all over the world and I’m happy that our captain has been able to secure a very good contract perhaps till the end of his career. Now he gets to play regularly and he’s also the captain of his team so it’s a good thing for us. I’m also happy for Ighalo because he will get to play and score plenty of goals.
This is good for the Super Eagles and for our aspirations to be at the World Cup. Playing in China is certainly better than sitting on the bench in their former clubs. As professionals, I expect them to raise their games as they have been doing even when not playing regularly.
Kelechi Iheanacho has not been playing because of City’s new signing, Gabriel Jesus. What is your advise for him?
Kelechi is a young player with an awesome future. He’s not playing at the moment because Manchester City have got Gabriel Jesus but am sure that Kelechi will come back in this team.
He’s a fighter with a good fighting spirit. I spoke with him and I’m sure he will come back into the City team. You know young players and how it is with big teams. Sometimes they play and sometimes they don’t get to play because you cannot play all the time when you ‘re at a big club but Kelechi has a good spirit and excellent attitude and I’m sure he will bounce back.