The Inside Story Of How Iheanacho & Ajayi Were Dropped From Nigeria’s 2019 AFCON Squad
By Izuchukwu Okosi.
Super Eagles head coach, Gernot Rohr dropped Semi Ajayi and Kelechi Iheanacho from his initial 25 man provisional squad for the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
Newslegend.com.ng’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI reveals a few things gathered behind the scenes when the Eagles held their first phase of camping in Asaba, Delta state…
It seemed both players were aware of what was to come as they rarely granted interviews to the press whilst the team camped at the Golden Tulip Hotel located at the Maryam Babangida Way, Asaba, Delta State.
Iheanacho scored just one Premier League goal in 30 appearances last season while Ajayi made 44 Championship appearances in the defence and midfield.
Super Eagles head coach Rohr disclosed that the decision to drop the players was taken before the game on Saturday.
The German and his coaches held series of meetings at their base prior to the friendly against Zimbabwe and must have heard the opinions of the Nigerian fans especially regarding the poor form of Iheanacho for the Foxes and Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
German coach Rohr a close friend of former Leicester manager Claude Puel who bought Iheanacho from City, stated that Iheanacho “needs to improve” alluding to the care free nature of the former Manchester City forward who was the Golden Ball winner (best player) at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the UAE.
Iheanacho’s Nations Cup ‘misfortune’ was seemingly under threat after that damning verdict on his professionalism and attitude.
Rohr duly advised the player to get back to his club manager’s good books.
Albeit new Foxes coach Brendan Rodgers leapt to the Nigerian’s defense but his confidence and form had deserted him and that was made worse by THAT miss at close range against Manchester City.
Rotherham United’s Ajayi is the one attracting most Nigerian fans’ sympathy following his impressive form for the Championship club but there have equally been those questioning who he could have replaced.
Perhaps had inspirational captain John Mikel Obi not made a return to the national team, by now, we could have had the versatile Ajayi making the final cut. But Mikel DESERVED to be named to the Nigerian squad. The team needs his experience and personality in Egypt.
How both players (Iheanacho and Ajayi) will react to future invitations is unknown but not many will argue the fact that Rohr made a good decision.
There were discerning voices who wondered why Rohr was not bold enough to drop Leon Balogun but feelers this reporter got from those close to the team was that the coach was ready to let the defender prove his fitness after just Premier League appearances and two FA Cups (for Brighton and Hove Albion) and two international friendlies for Nigeria.
That was why Rhor decided to play the centre back for 90 minutes against Zimbabwe – not that it would have affected his chances though, well maybe unless he suffered an injury setback. Balogun proved his fitness with a good game on Saturday.
Another player whose place in the final team list of 23 was greeted with mixed reactions was goalkeeper Francis Uzoho whose early promises in goal for Nigeria have dwindled due to inconsistent performances for Anorthosis Famagusta in the Cypriot league. But only few talk about it now – Iheanacho’s omission was the bigger news.
Despite his challenges and shortcomings, Rohr has confidence in the ability of Uzoho which is why the Eagles goalkeeping crew were sometimes sent to train privately with him.