Nigeria’s senior national team head coach, Gernot Rohr says the Super Eagles need to stay humble and qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations first before dreaming about lifting the trophy for the fourth time. Rohr told Channels Television in an interview monitored Monday why he accepted a cut in his salary as he strives to become the longest serving Eagles coach.
Covid19 has posted a lot of things in our world of sports. When football comes back, do you think it will ever be the same again?
Rohr: Football is going to change and I hope our society will have respect for other people, to take care of the poor people, people with health problems. And also, you can see the stadia are empty already. I think it will come back to matches with crowd but not full stadium for the moment. I think by September and October, we will have games perhaps with 10,000 people in the big stadium of Alianz in Munich. We will have matches in different kind of spirit, I hope, with more fair play, with more respect. I think, perhaps, something positive will come out of this covid19.
What is it like playing football without fans?
It’s different and more like in training. In training, we are alone most of the time with nobody watching us. We do training games, you can hear the coaches speaking, hear the staff participating, you can hear the players crying and all this thing, you don’t have it when there is a crowd. You know that now, especially in Munich and other stadium also, they have the audio with sounds of fans but in an empty stadium. It’s a make-believe for the players to think fans are in the stadium. But it is different, we need our fans, we need the crowd and I hope very soon we can see matches with our people and I think it will start with a few thousands in the big stadium. And then if the number of the Covid19 cases are going down, we will have more people filling the stadium again and perhaps next year, it will be like before hopefully.
Contract renewal has been done with some conditions. One of the conditions is that you will be paid in Naira and the other you will live in Nigeria. And you also said you don’t even mind getting a lower salary. Coach, explain this your love for Nigeria?
You know that I never speak about the confidential side of my contract. You heard President Pinnick as your invited guest and he spoke about it. He is the boss and he can do all he wants, but for me, I never spoke about it. You know, this is a job that is very special because this team is my team. I build it together of course with my officials, and staff and it’s a new and young team. The mission is not finished for the moment and I want it to continue. And I think that the period we are living now with the Covid19 has affected the business side of football everywhere, everybody has to do sacrifices – and I am the first. Let’s continue to work with this good and young team. These officials have confidence in my work and I want to thank all the officials and Mr. Pinnick who has giving me the opportunity to continue to work with this team. We have good solidarity and it’s a very good relationship not only with the team and staff but also with the officials. And I think this needs time, you cannot come and find it in a few weeks, or a few months this cohesiveness we have now. We want to continue in this spirit, we want to win our games, we want to play well, we want to see our players progress, and think everybody will be happy in Nigeria.
Do you think you can actually win the Nations Cup with these Eagles and also qualify for the World Cup because that is part of the contract?
I think we have a chance to win the next Nations Cup but first we have to qualify – it’s not finished. We’ve started very well with two victories. But you know it’s always easy to say we will win the Nations Cup. We will go into the quarter finals of the World Cup but let’s stay humble, please. We all the time have our philosophy in our team and staff to stay humble, to respect the other team, to respect the opponents and we will not change. I think we have a good team, we are already number three now in Africa when I arrived, we were number 13. So we are on a good way but it needs time and we even don’t know when the AFCON will hold. I recently had a video conference with all my staff – medical and technical staff. I wanted to introduce Joseph Yobo, my new assistant and I spoke with my doctors, my physios, everybody. We are preparing the future now and we want to know how we can win the AFCON. Let’s qualify first and I think we are on a good way to that and then, let’s stay humble if we want to win it.
What’s your stand on home based players and their chances of playing in the Super Eagles?
Everybody has a chance to come to the Super Eagles. Everybody who is doing well in his club. We don’t look where they are playing, we only see the quality of the players. Unfortunately, the Nigerian league is not playing for the moment like a lot of other leagues, but they have the chance to come. You know I’ve invited already 23 players from the Nigerian league and I still have one most of the time with me – goalkeeper Ezenwa. But all the other players we invited, once they are in the Super Eagles team, they go to Europe and they are sold to this or that club. And then they are no more Nigerian players. We have also the CHAN team which is only for players who are playing in the Nigerian league and who can play for the CHAN tournament. Unfortunately, they are not qualified for the one in Cameroon but the best players in that CHAN team have the chance to come into my team. Me and my assistants are looking out for them – we will watch the games as we always do.
The last time, it was Yusuf Salisu that lead the CHAN team to the finals in Morocco and brought three players for us and now they are in Europe. So, it’s like that. You cannot all the time invite local players and then they go to Europe and you want me to invite other local league players – it’s not always possible. But we want to have the best one and if you want to come in now you have to be very strong because we have very good young players in Europe. Players who are born of Nigerian parents are so strong and it is very difficult for local players to displace them in the team.
It is part of your contract to have these local players in the team, how do you intend to work round that?
It’s not part of my contract to take players who are not so good as the ones already in the team. I can chose my players myself – it is most important, so nobody can tell me you’ve to take this one, or that one. I can take the best players and I don’t do it alone, we have a team in our staff. I have my assistants, I have my analyzer and every Monday we have our meeting and we talk about the weekend games, what the players did. We have to take the best ones no matter where they are coming from.
Having taking these young team to the Nations Cup and World Cup, how much work do you still need to do with the Super Eagles?
The work is to be in touch with the players, to see them and have good communication especially at this time now when there are no matches for us. We have some injured players, like our goalkeeper Uzoho was injured but now coming back and working very hard, we have our fitness coach to help him. Also Tyrion Ebuehi and Emmanuel Dennis are injured and can use this break to recover and come back. So the work at the moment is to be close to the players, advise them and care for them. Very soon, the transfer window will open by June, July, August and we hope some of them can go to better clubs to progress and play much more in competitive games.
So it is important to have injured players back, instill our philosophy into the players – few touches, playing quickly, go forward with our quick wingers and score goals. Defensively, we also have to be strong. So we need time to forge such a solid team because we don’t have many games in the national team as it is in the clubs where they play every weekend. We’ve had four years already to work together and I think we can progress further.
I hope we can play in September, it’s not sure yet if the leagues are starting or not. But Germany has laid a good example even with the Covid19 and it’s working, I hope other leagues will resume soonest.
Are you keeping in touch with the players during this Covid19 pandemic?
Of course. The first thing to know is if they are in good health. We are in touch all the time with all the 35 players and none of them is sick. And our injured players I spoke about are on the good way coming back. We have good relationship with them all including the captain Ahmed Musa and assistant, William Troost-Ekong.
So the players want to play again and are training. France have stopped their league while other leagues are getting ready to restart. So we have Samuel Kalu back in Nigeria on holiday with his family. Simon Moses and Victor Osimhen also play in France. Now Osimhen I think, have very good opportunity to move from Lille perhaps to the English Premier League or Italian Serie A in a very big club. This will be a success for him and the Super Eagles to have players playing in the Champions League clubs. If we have our players playing in the very high level in the clubs, our level in the Super Eagles will be growing also.
Are you in support of Osimhen leaving Lille this season or do you think he should stay for another season?
If he stays for another season in Lille, it’s good for him because he is playing regularly. If he goes to another big club – you’ve seen the clubs who are eventually ready to buy him now, he’s not so sure to play because there is a big competition for the starting places in the team.
If he stays in Lille, it will be good because he will progress, we’re sure about this. But he is also able now because he is progressing so much to play in a very big club. It’s depending, if he has competition, it’ll be better to play in a better club than Lille. If he’s not playing, it’s not so good for him because a young player like him has to play for him to progress.