Benin vs Nigeria: Re-evaluating Gernot Rohr’s Nigeria tenure

When current Benin head caoch Gernot Rohr was named, in August 2016, as Super Eagles boss, he must have appreciated the great privilege and responsibility that came with being in charge of the most widely supported national team on the continent — one he expressed an immediate readiness to embrace.

“I am enthusiastic to get to work,” Rohr said at his unveiling. “I have a German heart — the heart of a winner.”

Nigeria, at that point, did not necessarily need a winner. All its football-mad citizens were crying out for was a team to be proud of, drawn and assembled from the very best players at the country's disposal.

The Super Eagles had failed to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after winning the previous edition under the much-loved Stephen Keshi.

Gernot Rohr: Has time vindicated the former Super Eagles coach?
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They were destined to miss out on the next, too, despite Rohr winning the last game of that campaign (on his debut). If Rohr could get Nigeria back to the AFCON and reach the next World Cup, that, by most metrics, would constitute success — and he duly delivered.

Achieving AFCON and World Cup qualification at first time of asking

The Super Eagles only lost one competitive game — to rivals South Africa — en route to qualifying for Russia 2018 and Egypt 2019 (there was a 3-0 reverse suffered against Algeria, but that was down to a technicality which Rohr had very little control over).

And while Nigeria failed to progress to that World Cup's knock-out stage, they almost went all the way at the AFCON, losing narrowly to eventual champions Algeria in the semi-finals and going on to clinch bronze.

Rohr had impressed, earning an extension of his stay — to a duration that would eventually make him Nigeria's longest-serving manager — albeit on seemingly unfavourable terms which would require him spending majority of the year living in Nigeria, taking a pay cut, and getting paid in local currency.

Gernot Rohr: Has time vindicated the former Super Eagles coach?
Photo by Icon Sport

Not that he was bothered, though.

“I am not doing my job for money,” the 70-year-old asserted at the time. “I am doing my job because I like it.”

Gernot Rohr's loyalty not reciprocated by his employers

To his great credit, Rohr did not just accept those terms; he also delivered on the targets that came with them — well, almost.

Qualification to the AFCON was achieved again, without losing a game, and Nigeria were also well on their way to the 2022 World Cup, having successfully navigated passage to the final qualifying round.

But even before Nigeria's opponents for the play-offs could be determined, as Rohr prepared to take charge at the AFCON in Cameroon, the NFF succumbed to pressure to part ways with him in late 2021.

Gernot Rohr: Has time vindicated the former Super Eagles coach?
Photo by Icon Sport

The cardinal sin of dropping points at home to teams like Cape Verde and the Central African Republic had been committed, with Amaju Pinnick, then president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), also citing perceived loss of squad discipline and claiming the decision was made to avert impending “disaster.”

Super Eagles' post-Rohr (mis)fortunes burnish his legacy

Whatever “disaster” Pinnick feared, though, came anyway.

Nigeria, after a strong start under stand-in Augustine Eguavoen, fell faster at the AFCON than they had in 13 previous appearances. Two months later, also with Eguavoen at the helm, Nigeria would lose the Qatar 2022 play-offs to arch-rivals Ghana.

The immediate aftermath of Rohr's exit hardly justified the move to let him go, clearly, and even the long-term state of affairs amplifies the scale of work he accomplished: eight of the players that started for the Super Eagles in the AFCON final earlier this year, and two of the five substitutes, were handed their debuts while Rohr was manager.

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu, a Ghanaian sports journalist, brings a dynamic perspective to the field with over a decade of experience. Having contributed to esteemed platforms such as Kickgh.com and Inkandkicks.com. Godfred is recognised for his insightful commentary and in-depth analysis of African football.
His passion for storytelling and commitment to accuracy have established him as a trusted authority in sports journalism in Ghana, captivating audiences with his engaging narratives and unparalleled expertise.
Godfred holds a degree in Integrated Development Studies (Social and Development Administration option) from the University for Development Studies, Ghana.