The President of Nigeria’s Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick has related how the NFF sought out and consulted Arsene Wenger while the body was on the hunt for a new head coach for the Super Eagles.
Pinnick shared this story with members of the media and guests at the launch of the *1945# shortcode and the campaign which will follow Nigeria’s preparation and participation in the World Cup.
During his address, the NFF President shared a detailed time-based account of the circumstances that inspired the search, political considerations and how Arsene Wenger and other experienced managers referred German Gernot Rohr for the job.
“And as head of the federation, we always want to take responsibility, we don’t want to apportion blame. We don’t want to tell the world that Chad pulled out the last meeting, that a country, that won the AFCON back-to-back, are even more eager. After we decided that we were condemned to qualify for the World Cup.”, Pinnick said.
According to Pinnick, he, along with two of his deputies, Shehu Dikko and Seyi Akinwunmi had a series of meetings at his house. They deliberated on many issues, including the players’ welfare, the capacity of the technical crew and whether the politics of the Confederation of African Football would affect Nigeria’s chances of qualifying.
“Before I had my ambition of going to CAF executive, I remember Seyi told me that whether I thought if Issa Hayatou was there we would qualify? For two nights I slept and was thinking about it”, Pinnick said.
“Cameroon was in our group, and this was a man who was 71-years-old and possibly if he wins the election, it will be his last time and could be a parting gift to Cameroon off the field.”
Besides that, the team also considered the strength of the qualifying group Nigeria found itself in. Dubbed the group of death, it had Algeria, Zambia, Cameroon and Nigeria vying for a singular ticket.
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“We looked at Algeria, they had the best record, they had gone about 13 games unbeaten. We looked at Zambia, AFCON winners. And I saw in the history of World Cup qualifier, the group that we were in, it was the toughest group ever in the history of the World Cup qualifiers anywhere in the world.”, Pinnick explained.
“Having three of the countries at the last World Cup in Brazil and also four AFCON winners with very rich form. We looked at all these and said we must overcome this”
Naturally, the next step was to get a coach for would be up to the task. The team considered many options. Bursaspor head coach Paul Le Guen apparently made the list but was not tapped for the job.
“To us it was a blessing in disguise because when we decided again that we wanted a coach, and everybody know that I am an Arsenal supporter, we tried to reach out to Arsene Wenger for a consultation on a coach.”, Pinnick added.
“We tried to reach out to Gerard Houllier (former Liverpool and France coach). I reached out to so many coaches and technical experts, and one name came to their fore and that was Gernot Rohr.”
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Whether Rohr would leave his lucrative job with the German National team was an initial consideration.
“I remember someone said whether Rohr would want to leave the lucrative job he had with the German Federation, heading one of their technical groups, to come to Nigeria.”, Pinnick continued.
“He is a very comfortable coach. He has two hotels and he is very happy. Even at a point, he was going to coach Madagascar free of charge because his wife happens to come from Madagascar.”
“I said I will pray over it and I believe he will come and that was when the journey began”
Since he joined the Nigerian National team in August 2016, Rohr has overseen a resurgence of the Super Eagles.
Led by the efforts of a new generation of Nigerian players playing in Europe’s top tiers, the Super Eagles became the first African country to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
In recognition of his good performance, Rohr was recently handed a two-year extension on his contract.