Cyriel Dessers switch opens fresh discord between Gernot Rohr and Amaju Pinnick
Cyriel Dessers is yet to put on the green-and-white jersey of Nigeria, but he has already put frost onto an already cold relationship between Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr and Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick.
There were more than a few Nigerian football followers and officials who metaphorically danced, skipped, and jumped with glee when Dessers announced officially that he was nailing his international flag to the country’s mast.
Rohr was not one of them.
But this was quite the coup for Pinnick, who had spoken to the Belgium-born and raised player and seemingly got him to make the commitment.
Make no mistake, Heracles Almelo’s Dessers is a big catch for the Super Eagles, who are one Victor Osimhen absence or dip in form from being almost toothless upfront.
Osimhen has stepped more than magnificently into Nigeria’s central striking role since the retirement of Odion Ighalo last year, helping himself to four goals and two assists in the Super Eagles’ four post-Africa Cup of Nations matches that he has started.
Fleet of foot, his vision and link play are additional assets that make him a tough opponent for even the best in the world, as Brazil’s centrebacks discovered in the 1-1 draw in Singapore even though that was the only fixture of the four in which he did not score.
For a 20-year-old, getting his first crack at leading the international line, those numbers are a first-class return and provide an unending source of pride for Rohr, who identified the then-teenager, when he first took over the job three years ago, and made him a focal point of his Super Eagles rebuild.
Osimhen’s success as marksman, however, also illustrates Rohr’s failure to find a second goalscorer who is just as efficient. And that’s not for want of trying.
Simeon Nwankwo was plucked from Serie A and taken to the World Cup in Russia but flamed out. Paul Onuachu still gets called up, but he has done practically nothing since that record quick goal against Egypt on debut.
Henry Onyekuru has failed to even break into the side, and the likes of David Okereke and Dennis Bonaventure are also bit-part players. None has established himself as back-up, let alone attempt to provide competition, to Osimhen.
That is exactly what Eredivisie’s lead scorer Dessers offers.
Dessers is a proven goalscorer, as his numbers for unfashionable Heracles in the Netherlands prove. And he is not just a one-season wonder. He scored 22 goals in 36 league games for NAC Breda back in 2015 to propel them to promotion, and then joined Utrecht, for whom he scored nine in 32 the campaign after, and five in 15 last season before joining Heracles.
Standing at six feet and well built, Dessers, the son of a Belgian father and Nigerian mother, is exactly the kind of target man Rohr will want as both competition and backup for Osimhen in his 4-3-3 formation if the striker can translate his club form to the international arena.
But in all of the excitement that surrounded last week’s announcement, Rohr’s reaction was uncharacteristically muted. This was a departure from his usual loquacious self when talking about players.
Asked by ESPN if Dessers would be called-up soon after his announcement, Rohr’s response was a noncommittal “we will see.”
Pressed further about whether he had been monitoring the player, and for how long, Rohr said: “When we look at new players, we do it discreetly.”
That response appeared to be a thinly veiled barb at Pinnick, who has either been photographed with intending players and/or their parents, or has made it known that he is speaking with the players and their families.
Quite clearly, the German did not want to talk about Dessers. And he was choosing his words carefully after being the subject of disciplinary action by the NFF over an interview last month.
Rohr’s pique seems to stem from the fact that he has been in contact with the player on the down-low for more than two years, according to a source on the Super Eagles coaching staff. That contact was on the recommendation of defender William Troost-Ekong, himself born abroad before switching allegiance to Nigeria
“He was recommended by William [Troost-Ekong], who told us he knew him from their time as young players and that he had Nigeria connections and would be open to an approach,” the source told ESPN.
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“The coaches looked at him and were quite happy. He has been monitored very closely since then, with constant communication. This commitment was secured two years ago while he was at NAC Breda. It was just a question of the right time to bring him in.”
Rohr’s ire is not so much about Dessers, and having the rug pulled from under his feet — he also apparently found out about the forward’s announcement by reading about it — as it is the overall strategy of Pinnick having photo ops with players.
The source added: “There are very influential people who do not want him to switch allegiance. That is why it is important to handle these discussions discretely. [Eze] has a Premier League team looking at him, and a Championship team with promotion prospects also in the picture. But this whole thing [photo with Pinnick] could compromise that.”
Eze’s saving grace comes in the shape of Tammy Abraham, who committed to England despite a similar publicised meeting with the NFF boss; Eze will be feeling that his prospective transfer can still be salvaged because he can argue that meeting Pinnick doesn’t necessarily mean he will switch allegiance — even if he plans to.
Still, the Nigeria coaches would prefer the NFF president to step back from his public displays of affection with potential players — especially if Rohr already has the same players on his radar.
“There are over 450 players on the database,” the source within the Nigeria team told ESPN. “Of that number, 65 are foreign-born but eligible to play for Nigeria.
“All of them are being monitored and most of them we have spoken to. But the process requires diplomacy and constant communication, and the timing must be right.”
It does not appear the coaches will get their way soon; meanwhile, Dessers is caught in a crossfire about which he has zero idea.