Football: Record-breaking Rohr seeks early World Cup qualification for Nigeria


In August, Gernot Rohr officially became the longest-serving Nigeria coach, clocking five years as Super Eagles boss, and the German says his next target is to again qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

Hired in August 2016, Rohr has surpassed Clemens Westerhof's time as Nigeria coach. The Dutchman, who was hired in August of 1989, left his post in July 1994, just one month shy of five years in charge.

The recent World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde also marked exactly five years since Rohr took charge of his first qualifier, against Zambia. Since then, Rohr has guided the team through three qualifying series: the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, Africa Cup of Nations 2019 qualifiers, and Afcon 2021 qualifiers.

On each occasion, he has led his team to qualify with at least one game to spare, a departure from previous coaches, and Rohr says the objective for this fourth series of qualifiers is to do the same.

"We always want to qualify quickly as possible," he told ESPN. "We look forward to continue our good football to qualify early and to have this team spirit, which is interesting for me and to the country to have fighting players."

Despite his longevity on the job, Rohr has faced criticism from a wide section of Nigerians, including former players like Yakubu Ayegbeni, who have laid onto his lack of trophies, refusal to pick domestic players, and a supposed lack of discernible playing style.

In his time in charge, Westerhof won the Africa Cup of Nations title, took the team to fifth place on the FIFA Rankings, before leading them to the second round of the World Cup in the USA, while playing the kind of entertaining football that won them an award.

"All that is a little bit unimportant," Rohr fired back. "But what I can say is that when I arrived, the FIFA ranking was worse and now it is much better.

"We grew together and the young team won a bronze medal in the last Afcon, with much more teams [competing] than in the past. In the past only 16 teams took part now it is 24 so it is much more difficult to win a medal with so many teams."

Nigeria were 67th in the world when Rohr took over, but the team has risen to a high of 27 on the rankings and currently sit in 34th place. The coach argues that his accomplishments go beyond even that.

He said: "The mission was in the beginning to go to the World Cup [in 2018]. We didn't have so much time to prepare the team but we did it, and without losing any game in a very difficult group.

"We found this young and new team and the longer [preparation] time is helping a lot, because you don't have the players for a long time [per international break]. That is an advantage.""Then the second mission was to make a younger team. To build a team for the future. So we had the youngest team of the World Cup in 2018. This is what we can say that is important for the future for Nigeria.

Rohr pointed to the team's most recent COVID-induced challenge, with the UK's 'red zone' restrictions hampering his squad selection, as a sign that his team is on the right path to a deeper player pool for Nigeria.

He added: "We saw when we had to replace 10 players because of the UK, the replacements and the players who were joining us had also a very good level.

"We can face these kind of challenges much better. The longer you are in a country the better you know everything, especially the players."

Rohr's Super Eagles came out of the latest round of qualifying in great shape, with a 2-0 home win over Liberia, followed by a 2-1 victory at Cape Verde.

With two wins from the opening two games of the qualifiers and sitting pretty at the top of the group, Rohr is pleased at the position of his team ahead of the next round of games in October, a home and away series with Cape Verde.

Six points from those games would all but guarantee the Eagles winning the group ahead of the final round of games in November.

The coach said: "We are happy about what happened in the two first games in very difficult conditions because we were able to show our solidarity and our strength as a team."

Looking ahead to the next phase of his time with Nigeria, Rohr would like to see better co-operation between himself, the team, and the football federation.

The coach has been owed up to seven months wages and bonuses in the past, he says. The team were also owed their Afcon 2019 allowances and bonuses for almost a year, leading to defender Leon Balogun calling out the Nigeria federation in a recent interview.

Rohr says more needs to be done on that front: "Like I always say, the politics and football departments must be together to succeed.

"And real togetherness and real solidarity, that is necessary to go forward and I hope that we will get it and we are able to continue running."