When the news of Gernot Rohr’s sacking was finally confirmed, it hit with a definite hint of anti-climax.
COMMENT: The return of Eguavoen promises little different for Super Eagles
There are a number of parallels between 2006 and the present day for the new Nigeria national team boss
So long had it been mooted that, for many, it had lost its earth-juddering potential by the time it actually came. It was an eventuality that Nigerian football fans had already made peace with, even if opinions on its sensibility remain far from unanimous.
Now the German’s tenure as Super Eagles coach has been staked through the heart, garlanded with garlic, salted, burnt and interred in a (holy) watery grave, there is nothing left for it but to look ahead. In Rohr’s stead, Austin Eguavoen – at the head of a consortium of coaches – will lead the three-time African champions to next month’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The question on everyone’s lips is: will the choice of the erstwhile Technical Director herald blinding rays of sun in Cameroon, or will it just be more of the same?
For all that the future is a vast, inscrutable unknown, there is the benefit of precedent to go on here. Eguavoen has been in this position before. In 2006, he was entrusted with the task of helming the Super Eagles at that year’s AFCON in Egypt, having taken over in an interim capacity during a World Cup qualifying series.
The details do not all line up perfectly, of course, but there are enough parallels in the broad strokes already, and more may yet reveal themselves over the next two months.
For one thing, with the AFCON slated for kick-off in three weeks, there have been no preparatory friendly matches lined up by the Nigeria Football Federation yet. Eguavoen will, of course, recognize this situation intimately: he went to Egypt without the benefit of a single warm-up match, even if at the time he had already led the national team to an ultimately futile pair of World Cup qualifying victories against Algeria and Zimbabwe.
Then there is the fact that now, as then, there is a surfeit of strikers from which to choose, with one in particular – based in the Premier League and in the best form of his career – whose involvement is up in the air.
The Super Eagles’ squad for the continental showpiece in 2006 contained no fewer than seven strikers, all of whom featured in some capacity. The names of Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Osaze Odemwingie and Julius Aghahowa may roll off the tongue far more readily than those of modern-day counterparts Victor Osimhen, Taiwo Awoniyi, Cyriel Dessers and Kelechi Iheanacho, but Eguavoen will be able to call upon the most diverse range of young strikers Nigeria has produced in the last decade. He will also have to grapple with the thorny issue of Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis who, if reports are to be believed, may yet pull the Yakubu Aiyegbeni protocol.
It is all so uncanny, the similarities fifteen years apart. Of course, if the former international defender was to pull off a third-place finish now as he managed then, it would be almost universally applauded in light of the upheaval that preceded it.
The road getting there, however, could be a lot less enjoyable for a number of reasons.
Eguavoen’s stewardship in 2006 was characterized by constant tinkering (not surprising considering the aforementioned lack of pre-tournament friendlies)—he did not name an unchanged starting lineup all the way through the competition. Nigeria also only scored one first-half goal in six matches, and were mightily indebted to goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama at various points, most notably in their final group match against Senegal.
Most galling of all though was the manner in which, once faced with high quality opposition in the semi-final against Cote d’Ivoire, Eguavoen’s lack of tactical acumen was laid bare in poor selection choices and a self-defeating torpor on the day. It made abundantly clear, if any confirmation was needed, that Cerezo was a poor fit for the role going forward.
Having once more failed to learn the lessons the past has to offer, the very best case scenario Nigeria can hope for is a repeat. There is a reason they say to never go back though: stranger things have happened, but it is deeply unlikely that Eguavoen has suddenly acquired the know-how to take a less seasoned crop one step further.