Rohr and the NFF have gotten their wishes, but at what cost to Nigerian football?

Solace Chukwu 20:25 - 11.11.2021

In recalling a known bribe-taker and a retired striker, the momentum of the country's football has hit a major bump.

Just how much would the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Nigeria national team manager Gernot Rohr be willing to sacrifice in order to ensure a place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar? 

Over the last three weeks, the answer to that hypothetical has become clearer. 

Three weeks ago - correct to the day - the Glass House sent word that Salisu Yusuf had been reinstated as assistant coach to the Super Eagles. The former Kano Pillars trainer had been indicted for taking a bribe back in 2018 in a now-infamous sting led by undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and handed a one-year suspension from all footballing activities. 

After what was essentially a slap on the wrist, the NFF were charitable enough to help Yusuf find his feet again, seconding him to CAF Confederation Cup campaigners Enugu Rangers as a form of rehabilitation. His return to the Super Eagles, upon the recommendation of the Technical Committee and to the approval of line manager Rohr, therefore completed a redemption arc, as it were, and made clear to all the first victim of the necessity of World Cup qualification: integrity

A few days later, NFF president Amaju Pinnick revealed talks had been held with former Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo about coming out of international retirement. The Al Shabab marksman had memorably left on a high following the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and had to that point sidestepped all suggestions of returning to international football. 

Nevertheless, the FIFA Council member’s garrulity let slip something was brewing behind the scenes and, sure enough, it was confirmed a few days later when the name of the former Watford and Manchester United player turned up in Gernot Rohr’s provisional list for November’s qualifiers. And so, the second victim of the necessity of World Cup qualifying was made manifest: the future

If this all seems rather hyperbolic, that is deliberate. It is a recourse one is often left with when considering Nigeria; only hyperbole can adequately parse farce. 

What other reaction would be appropriate when an institution welcomes back, with open arms, an employee who was caught in an act of financial malfeasance, with the rationalization that his penance had been done? How else is one to understand it when, despite being blessed with a plethora of young attacking talent that is presently the envy of the footballing world - headlined by a striker the like of which has not been seen on these shores since the retirement of the late, great Rashidi Yekini - a retired forward who split opinion while active is the hill on which those who run Nigerian football are eager to die? 

In saner climes, experience is an accompaniment to competence; in Nigeria, it is a danger, a constricting, asphyxiating force. In saner climes, punishment serves not only to deter, but also as a means to demonstrate the principle of the law; in Nigeria, it is a performative measure to, for a brief period, placate incredulity until the heat is passed. 

So it is that, given the opportunity to demonstrate integrity and embrace the future, the NFF and Rohr elected instead to give in to parochialism and desperation. Somehow, the returns of Yusuf and Ighalo are supposed to address the mutual incompetence that defines the uneasy union between the German and his employers - the latter’s presence presumably making the Teslim Balogun Stadium an acceptable playing surface, while the former resolves the Super Eagles’ pervasive lack of tactical ideas and attacking principles with his “match-reading ability, calm demeanour and proficiency in talent discovery”. 

The end will , of course, justify the means. Nigeria need four points from their final two qualifiers, a thoroughly attainable haul that will, no doubt, be attributed to the timely actions of Rohr and the NFF in recalling these two. 

In the self-aggrandizement and back-slapping that will follow, it is unlikely that anyone in the Glass House will stop to count the cost. In reacting so reflexively to defeat on home soil at the hands of the Central African Republic, both parties have dealt blows to Nigerian football. On the one hand, a dangerous precedent has been set, and the chance to take a definitive stand against all forms of corruption in the national teams has been missed. On the other, the confidence and upward momentum of a new generation has been mortgaged, sacrificed on the altar of laziness at which Rohr worships. 

Will anyone count the cost?