In an interview on Instagram recently, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr talked about his time with the national team, signing a new contract and his love for Nigerian delicacies. KELVIN EKERETE monitored the session
You heard the NFF president Amaju Pinnick say that you have been offered a new contact with some (new) conditions. Will you be happy to sign the contract?
My philosophy is not to speak publicly about these things (contract issues). It has always been not to speak about these contractual and very confidential things. It’s even written in my contract that we don’t speak about things publicly. But of course, I saw on TV, social media and newspapers what has been said, but I cannot comment on it. All I can say is that in three years that I have been with Nigeria, most of my time I spend (them) in Nigeria, apart from when I have to go to see my players.
They are all in Europe, only one, a goalkeeper (Ikechukwu Ezenwa), plays in Nigeria. When I’m not in Nigeria, I travel to Europe to meet my players, their coaches in their clubs to watch their matches, communicate with them. I do this all the time but I always return to Nigeria. When I look at the past three years, I have spent more time in Nigeria than in Europe. It’s only what I see from the past. I am waiting for the (NFF) proposal. Things could be very easy because I don’t want more money, bonuses or anything special but I only want to work as free as I could. I will wait for the proposal first. Personally, I’ve had few offers from other countries but I refused them because I said I am still under contract. I want to finish my work with Nigeria, go to the next AFCON and World Cup in 2022. It means for us to continue working together, I have to show my players, and employers that I have the motivation to continue.
What was the content of the discussion you had with Pinnick in London, back in February?
I cannot say what he said in the meeting in February. I cannot speak about it because it is a confidential thing.
You recently got a new assistant, Joseph Yobo. Have you spoken with him?
We’ve talked, I already asked him to help me with the players in the Nigerian league because I cannot move around at the moment. I asked him to be in touch with our players in Nigeria. So that’s what he’s doing. He is speaking with them and I am happy that he is motivated and in good spirit, and I think we can work very well together. It is interesting to have such a great former player with us. I’m also satisfied with the job of Imama Amapakabo, my former assistant. However, as NFF decided to change him, I have to accept him (Yobo) and I see that he’s in a good spirit and I am happy about it. I will make sure there won’t be any problem with our staff. I think it would be easy.
Personally, are you happy to stay and work in Nigeria and stay with the team that you have built throughout this period?
Yes, of course, now, we’re like a family in the team, and the staff, including the medical and administrative staff, we are like a family. It’s been three years. Every person knows each other now. We have fashioned out ways of working together. When you see the calendar, you see that there are so many games in the second half of the year. We are getting ready for these games. For the World Cup, there’s no time to experiment.
If you decide to renew your contract with Nigeria, are there some things you will like to change about the way you work with the team and federation?
Of course, we have had this discussion already with Amaju Pinnick, who is my (NFF) president; we talked about this in London. He knows what I want and what I need. In London, we spoke about important things and they know what I want and I don’t have to say it publicly. Again, what I can say is that we need harmony and we need to move forward together. We want to qualify for the World Cup again. Everybody has got to work in harmony and solidarity. One of the coaches of the local clubs (Salisu Yususf) was my former assistant and we did some good work together. I don’t know now how NFF will arrange our programmes. There must be collaboration between us and the U-23 and U-20 teams. What we did before was to call on them all the time. We needed to have that arrangement between us and the age-grade teams. This unity is what we need to have in our different teams.
What would you call the brand of football played by the Eagles?
We play offensive football using wingers who are quick, strikers who are young like we have now. If (Odion) Ighalo is going to come I don’t know, but I hope so.
Have you spoken to Ighalo to ask him if he wants to come back?
We keep in touch all the time. There’s friendship between us, it’s more than business. We have (Cyriel) Dessers now. We have great strikers who can play that position too. This is a good foundation. For wingers, forwards, we have Samuel Chukwueze, Ahmed Musa, Samuel Kalu, Alex Iwobi and others too. We have what we need. These are players who have been to the World Cup and have played at some of the biggest stages in the world.
What are your thoughts about including more local players in your team?
I have invited more than 20 local players already into the Super Eagles since I took charge of the team. We invite them, next thing, they are off to European clubs. It is wonderful for them. We look out for quality players from the local league and everybody knows and this does not apply only to Nigeria, but also to Cameroon, Senegal and other countries; many of their players are in Europe and China. We monitor the league even though I cannot see them play in all the league matches. That’s why I communicate with the coaches of the age-grade competitions so that we can work together and monitor the best from the league, CHAN, U-20, U-17, we monitor everyone. Then the academies too, we look out for players from that side, not only from the league.This is a new chapter in the area of our work. I also need people like Victor Agali and Alloy Agu watching out for players for me, especially goalkeepers. Victor owns an academy. They give us the best advice regarding some of these players and we also have Yobo on board, he’s also good too. I had a very good relationship with the coach of the female side too (Thomas Dennerby) before he left.
It is our strength (harmony). We train together, stay together and this is our first strength in the team and we try to maintain it. We have lots of players coming in from England: Ademola Lookman, Eberechi Eze, Sheyi Ojo and others. Have you spoken to any of them to play for Nigeria?
I was in England for Eze, I saw him play. I was there in his home. We are working on getting these guys to feature for the Eagles. There’s even this new guy I saw on video, I love the way he plays. He plays his club football in Holland (Chidera Ejuke). We have lots of them at the moment. I have seen many of them play for their clubs live. However, they must be better than the people we have already. We have Joe Aribo now, we have (Oghenekaro) Etebo, who’s coming back in the midfield, we have Alex Iwobi, who can play in the midfield or wings, and we have Abdullahi Shehu, who is playing well in Turkey now. We have good players already. So, any new addition must be better than what we have. We have Ramon Azeez too.
We would have brought in some other players; however, most have played for other countries. I have a list of 40 names.
Talking about the list, do you have a database of all the players of Nigerian origin?
Yes, we have Nabil, a good analyst, as well as my chief scout, Tunde Adelakun, and we use the internet all the time, especially when I need information about a player. We have 94 to 96 names on this data list. We are following what they do. We also have somebody who watches the profile of these players we need. It was when we were searching we found Kingsley Ehizibue. We have Tyronne Ebuehi coming back. We have to follow everybody up, that’s why we have our scouts searching and bringing reports.
How many hours of video do you and Nabil watch before you go to the pitch?
For Nabil, I think its 20 hours but for me, it’s half of that.
This is because Nabil makes the analyses so I have time to do other things.
Do you modify your tactics according to the team you are playing against?
We try to adapt our tactics to the players we invite or have. We want to play to our own strength, if we see some weaknesses in the opponent’s team, we try to take advantage of it. This means that we try to play using that noticeable weakness as our vantage point. For example, when we see that they have a problem with defence, we work on our set-pieces. We have to do that all the time to see the strength and weaknesses of the opponent.
How do you get the videos? Nabil said he gets some of the tactical ones from teams that play in Europe?
We have our scouts and other systems we also use in getting our videos. There is a group in Germany that Nabil is working with. We also use technology to source for some.
What were you happiest about during the AFCON and what was your biggest disappointment?
The (second round) match against Cameroon. The game was wonderful. We were down twice and we came from behind to snatch the victory. Our game against South Africa was also fantastic. Everybody played, all the 23 players played well. There were some critics who asked why we took off Victor Osimhen. For the disappointment, I regret the second goal against Algeria because we could have won that match if we had proceeded into extra time.
Osimhen is doing great right now. What kind of future do you see for him?
If he stays humble and I know he will, he will go far. Though he’s had some difficult times with injuries and he had to start again from a small club. He has shown that he can fight, come back and play again at the highest level. So, if he stays humble, he will improve and develop. With Manchester United looking at him, he can be great.
What were you thinking when you started to change this team to become one of the youngest team since the 2018 World Cup?
We had the youngest team in Russia 2018; I think we can get better in 2022. Our target is to go to Qatar and make a very strong statement with this team.
We saw South Africa score a goal against Nigeria at the 2019 AFCON and it was controversial. Do you think we should have VAR again at the 2021 AFCON?
Yes. I think so. Because it can bring us justice in football even though sometimes, the interpretation is not so good.
Which Nigerian foods do you like the most?
I like vegetable soup; I like the real Nigerian chicken, not the industrial chicken but the local chicken. I like rice, I prefer natural foods. Though I eat Jollof rice sometimes, but I like white rice the most. I hate fat. You could see me in the gym. I like to keep fit and watch my weight; I don’t want to grow fat. I also have where I train at home.