Many German coaches such as Otto Pfister, Rudi Gutendorf and Burkhard Ziese have led teams throughout Africa with varying degrees of success. But while the trio represent the old guard of coaches, a new generation has found their way to the continent. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to one of the new breed: Gernot Rohr.
When the 63-year-old took over Nigeria in August last year, the Super Eagles had just failed to qualify for a second CAF Africa Cup of Nations in a row. The disappointment was palpable in the football-mad west African country, having come shortly after lifting the trophy in South Africa in 2013 and competing with distinction at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Rohr was thus given a clear directive: ensure the Super Eagles qualify for Russia 2018. Achieving that feat will mean overcoming the so-called ‘Group of Death’ with Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia standing in the way. The former defender, who became an iconic figure at Bordeaux during his playing days, got off to a winning start with Nigeria, beating Tanzania 1-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier that had already been rendered meaningless after Egypt secured the lone qualifying berth from Group G.
More importantly though, Rohr got the Super Eagles off to a winning start in their World Cup qualifiers, recording a tough 2-1 win in Zambia. Nigeria then collected a confident 3-1 victory at home against Algeria. The six points, coupled with some surprising results in the other games, leaves Nigeria with an early four-point lead.
“Winning our first two matches was a great start, but we will not play again until the end of August and early September, when we face Cameroon,” said Rohr. “They of course are African champions and will be highly motivated to take the form from Gabon into the World Cup qualifiers.
“I do not get carried away. It is a very tough group and nothing has been decided. But I admit that, at the moment, we have a small advantage and if we win our two matches at home against Cameroon and Zambia, we will qualify.”
Like many of his counterparts throughout Africa, Rohr can call up a host of players plying their trade throughout Europe. But unlike most, Rohr has an array of players who appear regularly in one of the world’s toughest leagues: the English Premier League. “As the team and the country had been deeply affected by failing to qualify for the finals in Gabon, I wanted to bring in some younger players into the squad. This, of course, is without closing the door on anyone.”
Rohr handed a first call-up to Isaac Success and also included youngsters like Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho. But the German did not put all his faith into talented youngsters, he included experienced campaigners like Elderson Echiejile, John Ogu and captain John Obi Mikel in his squad.
However, it was not only with the senior side that work needed to be done. Recent results at age-group level had also not been as successful as the past. “This is something that I wanted to help change,” Rohr said. “I also offered to accompany the local selection, even if I was not in charge of it directly. I also said I would keep an eye out for the national women’s team. These are some of the things I said I wanted to do when I started in August last year.”
After ending his playing career with Bordeaux in 1989, Rohr moved straight into coaching at the club – first as a youth coach, before taking over the senior side. In 2010, he took his first national team position, leading Gabon into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations two years later. Since then, stints with Burkina Faso and Niger have followed.
Throughout his coaching career, Rohr has worked with a number of great players. He considers Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to be one of the best. “Under Thomas Tuchel he plays a more central role at Borussia Dortmund than he did under Jurgen Klopp. He has gained in efficiency. One feels that he does not need many opportunities to score.
“For a player who loves depth, his speed is a huge advantage. He has grown as a player and could become even better. With a little improvement to his left foot, his in-depth play and concentration, he would become even more effective. Although he is already one of the best strikers in the world and has the qualities to play at any club.”