Almost three months after they defeated Tunisia to win the Bronze Medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, The Super Eagles were back in action on September 10, 2019, in an international friendly match against Ukraine at the Dnipro Arena which ended in a 2-2 draw.
A lot has changed since the three-time African champions defeated Tunisia under the floodlights of Al-Salam Stadium Cairo. The duo of John Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo have retired from international football although most of the players that played in Egypt are still with the team.
Prior to the release of his list for the clash against Ukraine, fans were eager to see the players Gernot Rohr will invite especially with Mikel and Ighalo’s retirement.
And in all fairness, the former Auxerre manager almost got his squad selection right as he retained most of the players that represented the country in Egypt, while he also brought in fresh faces.
The newly invited players included Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye, who did not get his chance last night but will be hoping to get another one in future matches.
Others include Glasgow Rangers midfielder, Joe Aribo, who by his display last night showed that the team may actually not feel the effect of Mikel’s retirement. Josh Maja of Bordeaux and Emanuel Dennis of Club Brugge are the other newly invited player that took part in the encounter.
However, while Gernot Rohr should be commended for his decision to bring in fresh faces, questions must also be asked on his choice of continuously selecting some of the old guards, with one particular name standing out, and that’s Leon Balogun.
The former Mainz defender has seen limited game time since he joined Brighton and Hove Albion last season. In the 2018/2019 campaign, the 31-year-old managed just 10 appearances for the Seagulls in all competition, and that was still enough to earn a spot in the Super Eagles squad to Egypt.
This season, Balogun has only featured once for Graham Potters side and that was even in the less fancied Carabao Cup.
Balogun situation at Brighton now begs the question if his inclusion in the Super Eagles team is justified. Although Balogun has been a mainstay in the Super Eagles squad since he made his debut in 2014, there are better players who are now well equipped to take over his position.
While he has formed the famous “oyinbo wall” with his longterm defence partner, William Troost Ekong, his lack of action at his club means Rohr could not continue to hand him a place in the squad based on his past performances.
It is true that most national team managers like to maintain stability by inviting players that who they trust, thereby changing little, Balogun’s performances in the games he played at AFCON showed it is not necessarily the correct decision always.
The 31-year-old was at fault for Super Eagles loss to unheralded Madagascar in the last match of Group B. His lack of game time showed as he was slow to react to a John Ogu’s back pass. The Brighton defender was also all over the place and could also not keep up with the pace and speed of the Malagasy.
Balogun’s invitation also suggests Rohr may not be consistent in the application of his rule. The former Bordeaux manager had revealed at a time that he will only invite players who are playing regularly at their club sides.
It was for this reason that Iheanacho missed out on a place in the AFCON team, although he was back in the squad last night.
The German tactician was criticised for naming just one home-based player in the squad that faced Ukraine. But in defending himself, the 66-year old German said he can’t invite players who haven’t played active football for over three months just because they are NPFL players. While he is right about that, Balogun’s presence in the squad makes the rule look like double standards.
Balogun has had some brilliant performances for the team in the past, but it is time for Rohr to put his sentiments aside and be consistent in the application of his rules by giving his spot to players who are playing regularly for their clubs.