Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Conversation with Gernot Rohr

MY FIRST DAY at work in 2017 featured an interesting encounter with Super Eagles manager Gernot Rorh. During a very relaxing conversation at the historic Onikan Stadium in Lagos, Rorh told me and former Soccer Star editor Kunle Solaja that winning a 2018 FIFA World Cup ticket for Nigeria will be the greatest achievement of his coaching career. Here is an excerpt from the lengthy conversation......

Mumini Alao: Hello, Gernot. It's nice meeting you for the first time. How are you?

Gernot Rohr: I'm very well, thank you. Toyin has spoken a lot about you and your articles in Complete Sports newspaper. I'm very pleased to meet you, too. (Toyin Ibitoye is media officer of the Super Eagles).

Alao: Yeah, Toyin said to me you would be around in Lagos and he would like me to meet you so we could have a conversation which is great.

Rorh: Yes, yes. Before now I didn't want to talk too much because I was new and I needed to understand my new environment. Now, I think I'm settling down.

Alao: That is true because you have played three games (as Eagles coach) and won them all. That is a great way to start on a new job. Congratulations.

Rorh: You're right, thank you. The results in 2016 were very good and have helped me to settle quickly.

Alao: Fantastic. But you know, this year (2017) is going to be even more important. Of course, you're aware that all the Nigerian teams did not qualify for major tournaments to be played this year. The U-17, the U-20 as well as the Super Eagles didn’t make it to their respective African tournaments while there are no female competitions and no Olympics games. The only major event 170 million Nigerian football fans are looking forward to this year is the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers and all eyes are on you to deliver the ticket. Does that make you feel any pressure?

 Rohr: No, because it is job. And when you are handling a team, be it a club or a country, it’s always the same; you want to win. So, there is no pressure because I have the experience, I have good feelings and I have a very good team. This is the best team I have ever trained (offensively) asides FC Bordeaux in 1996. I don’t feel any pressure because I know we can score goals at any moment. We are very strong on the offensive with players like Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi and others. The players have accepted my philosophy, we have a good discipline and a collective respect for each other. So, I feel the players really want to give their best for Nigeria as a nation. That is good for me to achieve my objective of getting the World Cup ticket.

Alao: You have been in Africa for some time. You coached Etoile du Sahel in Tunisia, you were in Niger Republic and later, Burkina Faso as national coach. What was your impression about Nigerian football and Nigerian players before you came to Nigeria

Rohr: I was in Niger Republic, and Nigeria is close to Niger Republic. There are many Nigerian players plying their trade in Niger Republic. And also during my career, I worked with Nigerian players like Victor Agali when I was a coach of OGC Nice in 2004. So, I have a very good image of the Nigerian players. They are respectful and very strong physically; Mikel Obi is a typical example and the confirmation of the image I had of Nigerian players. They're very strong and very talented.

Alao: You earlier talked about the offensive nature of your team. Does that mean you do realize that you still have a lot of work to on the midfield and the defense?

Rohr: There is always a lot of work to do. Even if you have a big team, you cannot say they are already on top or that everything is perfect. When I watched the last game (against Algeria in a World Cup qualifier), I saw that we had a lot of chances to score but there were problems at the back. So, we must be stronger all together everywhere on the pitch. It's not the question of one department or one defender alone. But, yes, we have a bit more work to do on the defense.

Alao: If you recall in one of my articles in Complete Sports, I was trying to point out that sub-Saharan African players seem to have problems of concentration in defense which makes it easy for the North Africans and the Europeans to capitalize and punish them. What is your take on that?

Rohr: Oh yes, I remember that you talked about that in your article when I just arrived. You also wrote about how to beat Zambia, Algeria and Cameroun. Yeah, yeah, it was a very good article, Toyin brought it to me and I have kept it here in my telephone. Yes, I think this is where we can improve; I mean the mental aspect of our game plan. Concentration is part of momentum, discipline is part of momentum, respect, tactics and strategy are all part of it. So, everybody in Africa must progress in this mental aspect to close the gap on the Europeans. Yes, I agree with your observation.

Mumin: Which areas in particular do you think you still have more work to do in the Super Eagles defence?

Rohr: When you look at the team, you’ll see that we like to use offensive wing backs. But again, we still to like have defenders with good techniques of defending without faults. We don’t have so many choices at those positions, so we are still searching for players in that department, I mean right full back and left full back. As for the centre back, that is the strong point of our team. Already, you spoke about the mental strengths of the top European teams. I believe that the exposure of Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun to European football very early in their careers helped them a lot. I consider them as the best central defensive partnership in African football today. We also have Kenneth Omeruo as a back-up and he can also play at right back. But I'm still looking at other options for the wing backs. Before the qualifiers resume, we would find the solutions to improve.

Alao: As the national coach of Nigeria, how are you passing that message of developing the mental capacity of players from a young age across to the Nigeria Football Federation

Rohr: They (the NFF) must work with the young ones where they have coaches who can teach basic formations at football academies with the same objective as us at the senior level. With this, the players will be able to have a good concentration and be strong mentally coupled with acquiring basic education. I think in each academy, there must be a message from the federation on how to coach these young talents.

Alao: Would you want to make a recommendation on developing technical curriculum that will give the coaches an insight into what to teach the players at the academy level?

Rohr: In Europe, there are people who specialize on the mental subject in football.  But I think in Nigeria, it is the work of the coach, it is the work of the academies and also the technical committee of the federation. They must try to teach the young players to be concentrated; to respect the playing philosophy and have the tactical discipline from a young age. This is very important

Alao: Let's return to the Super Eagles. What kind of philosophy have you adopted having studied the team? Which formation do you think can bring out the best performance from the team?

Rohr: You’ve seen the three games we played against Tanzania, Zambia and Algeria and you could see how we progressed in each game. We had a 4-3-3 formation; later we had 4-2-3-1 and later another formation in 4-1-4-1we don’t have any problem playing any of these formations. In fact, we can play several formations within a single game depending on the opponent and our situation. Our players have high technical and tactical qualities.

Alao: How did you approach the Algeria game in particular because the Algerians were the number one team in Africa, they have several top players and most Nigerian fans were afraid you would not be able to cope with them…

Rohr: No, we were not afraid of them because I had always won against them. I won against them while in Niger Republic, so there was no doubt we could beat them because Nigeria have better players than Niger Republic. Also, I had the clip of their (Algeria's) first game against Cameroun and I saw that they were very slow at the back. We were confident we would beat them.

Alao: Before that game, I wrote about Oghenekaro Etebo in my column and pleaded that he should be called up for the game to play in attacking midfield. Other people made similar calls. You responded to our calls but instead of attacking midfield, you put him in defensive midfield and pushed Mikel Obi upfront. What did you see that made you swap them?

Rohr: In the week of the match, we had a good training in Uyo and Etebo showed what he is capable of doing. He is very strong and he can play box-to-box, back and forth without getting tired. And when he goes forward, Ogenyi Onazi has the awareness to cover for him. Mikel on the other hand was not playing at Chelsea and it would be a risk to play him at number 6 so we pushed him forward. The plan worked perfectly for the game.

Alao: There are four more games to play in the World Cup qualifiers and the next two at home and away against Cameroun are very important. You will be going to the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon as a television pundit. What are you going to be looking out for especially considering the fact that Cameroun have always proved to be a hard nut to crack for Nigeria in the history of African football?

Rohr: We are used to (hearing about) traditions. It was the same before we went to Zambia (that Nigeria had never won there) and now, the moment has come and we have to change it. We want to stop that (domination by Cameroun). We need to beat them at home first because this game is the most important game. If we beat them here in Nigeria, it’ll be very difficult for them to come back. The victory will give us nine points while they (Cameroun) will be on two points. I watched their game against Zambia, there is a lot of pressure on them. We have the confidence that we can beat them.

Alao: Let me take you back to the team. There was a time you were bent on bringing goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama back into the team. Are you still talking to him about making a come-back?

Rohr: In the beginning, I was looking for him because I knew him to be a very good goalkeeper but I didn't know the problem he had with the federation. I called him, I invited him to camp but he didn’t honour the invitation; so we have to move on. In Carl Ikeme, we have a very good number one.

Alao: By the way, Gernot, how did you get to know about the Nigeria job? How were you contacted?

Rohr: I was contacted by Mr. Tunde Adelakun who is based in London. He knew me when I was working in Burkina Faso. I sent him a proposal and he called me, we spoke after which the president (Amaju Pinnick) now called me. I was invited to come to Abuja which I did, I gave them my ideas and motivations. I was warmly received by the technical committee.

Alao: What has been your relationship with the federation’s system and the technical committee?

Rohr: Good relationship. No problem at all. I know some of the people in the technical committee like Victor Ikpeba, Bitrus Bewarang and I like them. I feel at home with them.

Alao: Great. And, what's your opinion of the Nigerian football fans?

Rohr: They are very respectful. Even the players, they are morrespectful than the Francophone players. 

Alao: Tell us about your family?

Rohr: I have two children from my Madagascan wife.

(At this stage, Mr. Kunle Solaja, former editor of Soccer Star, arrives to join the conversation)

Solaja: Coach, here in Nigeriawe feel that it will be very easy for you to monitor the home-based players and scout some talents for the national team. But it appears you prefer staying in France to monitor the players.

Rohr: It is not by preference or pride. It’s just that I have to be very close to the players. It is my priority to know all my players and watch their game. And because the majority of our top players are in Europe, then I have to spend more time in Europe. It is not possible for me to stay here and talk to them on telephone. I prefer to have personal contact with them. I have my assistants who will monitor the local players. But  also, I have a house in Abuja where I stay now when I'm in Nigeria. I have lived in Africa for many years and my wife is from Madagascar, so I have no problem living in Nigeria. But I have to be in Europe more regularly to see my players.

Solaja: Have you had any chance to watch some matches in the Nigerian league?

Rohr: I watched the Federations Cup final in Lagos. I also watched a few other games and Imama (Amapakabo, one of his assistants) showed me some players. They have good qualities but they need to develop more to play at a high level.

Alao: Nigeria have always had issues with payment of coaches even before this current administration of Amaju Pinnick. The last German like you to work here was Berti Vogts and he had to report Nigeria to FIFA before he could get his money. I believe you must have heard of that.

Rohr: I hope I don't have to go to FIFA before I can collect my salary.......(Explosive laughter all round).....But the truth is that the money problem is everywhere. I hope everybody’s contract is respected; nobody should be taken for granted. So far, everything is OK with my contract.

Solaja: How true is the statement that was credited to you by a FIFA publication that you agree to be fired if you failed to qualify Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup?

Rohr: What I said is that my contract stops automatically if we did not qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I understand that another coach that was to be hired refused the contract because of this condition. But I have accepted the challenge. I did not say I should be fired.

Solaja: For those of us in the media, we prefer to use words like "fired" or "sacked" because they're more dramatic.

 (General laughter).

Alao: So, Gernot, how will you react to qualifying the Super Eagles for the FIFA World Cup? What would that mean to you?

Rorh: Whao! That would be the greatest achievement of my coaching career. I'm willing to do everything in my power to achieve it. And I believe with the support of everybody in Nigeria; the federation, the government, the players, the fans and the media, we will achieve this objective.

Alao: Thank you very much for talking to us. We wish you all the best.

Solaja: Good luck, Gernot.

Rohr: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Basics Of Sportscasting

LAST WEEK, I promised to share with readers my review of Deji Omotoyinbo's book, The Basics of Sportscasting. The launch took place at Lagos Sheraton Hotel. Here is the review that I presented at the occasion. Enjoy…

I CANNOT remember the occasion of my first encounter with Deji Omotoyinbo. What I do remember was an episode early in our careers as sports journalists when he invited me to appear on one of his programmes at DBN Television.

The DBN Television studio was located at the penthouse of one of the three high-rise blocks that make up Eko Courts on Victoria Island, Lagos. The lifts weren't working, so I had to take the flight of stairs to the 21st floor and on to the penthouse.

Unfortunately for me, it turned out that I had climbed the wrong block, so I had to descend 21 floors and climb another 21 floors in the right block to finally locate the DBN studio.
Eureka! you might want to say, but hold it, not so fast! 
I arrived to find Deji lounging on a couch at the studio reception. He was looking forlorn, disheveled and morose. When I narrated what I'd just gone through, he couldn't apologize enough; he just wanted to cry!
“That's OK; that's OK,” I began in a generous tone but he interrupted me, then dropped his own bombshell: “There's no light, Mumini,” he said ruefully, referring to a lack of electricity in the studio. “We cannot record the programme. Can you wait for NEPA to bring light?”

In those days, power generators weren't common place and most Nigerians simply prayed and waited on the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to “bring light.” But on this particular day, NEPA refused to answer our prayers, the recording had to be called off and I was faced with another 21 floors of stairs to descend. What a terrible, horrible day!

So, when Deji Omotoyinbo writes a book on Sportscasting and says in the preface that the job of a sportscaster is one of the most exciting and fulfilling, yet most challenging and frustrating on the planet, he knows exactly what he is talking about.

The story that I have just narrated was one-day experience for me. But I guess the exhausting climbing of 21 floors of flights and the frustrating NEPA failures were a daily routine for our author for the most part of his budding career at DBN Television between 1994 – 1998.

It is just a shame that nearly 20 years after, not much has improved in the power situation in Nigeria. 
What an unusual introduction to a book review you might want to say, but I have taken these liberties because this is a book about a subject where we the practitioners enjoy a lot of freedom. Sportsmedia practice, either sports writing or sportscasting, have never been fully bound by the rigid rules of mainstream media practice. In sports, we journalists are experts who always know better than the coaches and administrators!

The main title of the book, THE BASICS OF SPORTSCASTING, comes with a kicker which describes the work as “A Simple Guide on How to Build a Successful career,” presumably in sportscasting. It is a book of 10 chapters and 120 pages. It is published in December 2016 by Iven Team, based in Ikeja – Lagos, Nigeria. The ISBN number is 978 978 954 736 4, it is a first edition and cover design was done by Sola Ibeneme. The author, as stated earlier, is Deji Omotoyinbo.

CHAPTER ONE is titled “The 7 Point Checklist.” The author opens with a list of attributes without which he says one cannot excel as a sportscaster. These attributes are passion, discipline, dedication, perseverance, originality, teamwork and objectivity.
He summarises his description of each attribute and challenges the reader with a poser at the end of each description. For example, on discipline, he asks: “Are you game?” On perseverance, he asks: “Can you last the distance?” To which I add: “Can you climb 21 floors?”
The author concludes the chapter matter-of-factly: “If you have doubts about your ability to cope with any one of the outlined traits, you may wish to reconsider your career choice.”

IN CHAPTER TWO, “The Studio, Your Home,” the author prepares the mind of the budding sportscaster for spending “long hours in the studio.” He discusses the two main types of studios, the Live Studio and the Recording/Production Studio and how each functions. He provides a list of traditional studio components for television and radio, explains types of sets – Real and Virtual, the function of the Master Control Room (MCR) and the basic rules of the Do's and Don'ts in a studio.
However, the author concludes the chapter on page 22 with an ominous message that “The studio is not the show!” His argument is that “no matter how sophisticated or aesthetically pleasing a studio is, it will not validate an ill-prepared Sportscaster or badly packaged show.” Very true.

CHAPTER THREE is on “Scriptwriting – The Soul of Sportscasting!” This is a very apt description by the author because, indeed, without a script, there could be no production.
The author defines what a script is, what a story is, what is news and he lists the rudiments of good script writing as the traditional “5Ws and H” of news writing: What, Who, Where, When, Why and How. However, the author highlights the “Why” in sportscasting because, in his words, it “falls into the realm of analysis” where opinions can be expressed freely.

Furthermore, the author provides some keys to a good script. These include picking an angle or perspective to a story, timing depending on length of time allotted, cross-checking facts and figures for accuracy, never including personal opinion and keeping the script short and simple represented by an acronym: KISS. (keep it short and simple).
Once again, the chapter is concluded on page 33 with an admonition to the budding sportscaster. The author says: “To become an accomplished scriptwriter, you have to constantly practice and continually hone your skills.”

IN CHAPTER FOUR, the author describes various types of news gathering techniques on pages 34-40.

CHAPTER FIVE focuses on Content Creation with the author emphasizing on page 42 that “Every Sports show should be designed to entertain.” He provides a lists of techniques for information and education programmes and follows this up with the characteristics of a good sports show some of which include adding value to the audience, providing additional information, avoiding vulgarity and sticking to the facts.

CHAPTER SIX is on Programmes Production – from Idea to Reality. The author underlines the fact that every programme starts with an idea. He goes on to explain the four main stages in production which are conceptualization, pre-production planning, production and post-production. He noted that a major consideration in sports programming is the issue of rights as visuals cannot be used on programmes without the permission of the rights owner.

Not surprisingly for me, CHAPTER SEVEN is the most voluminous in the book and that is because it discusses a subject where the author has made his mark, SPORTS PRESENTATION. He creatively used an acronym with the same 12 letters (P.R.E.S.E.N.T.A.T.I.O.N) to capture his 12-step guide to becoming an excellent sportscaster.
These letters are P for Passion; R for Research; E for Entertainment; S for Simplicity; E for Education; N for Neutrality; T for Trust; A for Attitude; T for Teamwork; I for Innovation; O for Originality and N for Naturalness. PRESENTATION! How can any budding sportscaster forget that!
To save time and space, I will only quote three references from the 12 guides on presentation listed by the author.
On P-for-Passion, he says on page 63: “It is impossible to become a top sportscaster without having bags of passion for everything and anything sport. For you, it is an obsession bothering an addiction.”
On E-for-Entertainment on page 65, he says: “Sports IS entertainment and a good sports presenter should endeavour to spice up his/her programme with a bit of positive humour without detracting from serious issues on the menu.”

And on I-for-Innovation on page 72, the author says: 'Creativity is an important ingredient in the packaging and presentation of sports programmes. Innovation keeps your show fresh and appetizing to your audience.”
Chapter seven also features the only footnote in the entire book where the author mentioned the importance of correct pronunciation, especially of the name of sports personalities.

CHAPTER EIGHT looks at Sports Presentation Types. The author admonishes sportscasters to discover their strengths and specialize in any presentation category such as anchor, co-anchor, segment presenter, field/beat reporter, commentator, voice-over specialist or analyst/pundit.

IN CHAPTER NINE, Principles of Objective Sports Analysis, the author lists 10 principles some of which are total emotional detachment, deep knowledge of subject matter, showing courtesy and respect, avoiding absolutes, accepting mistakes and respecting the opinion of others. His main emphasis in the chapter however, is a guiding principle which he says should be a commandment for all sports analysis: “An analyst cannot be a fan and a fan cannot be an analyst.”

I disagree with this assertion by the author because, while not all sports fans are analysts, all analysts are first and foremost sports fans. By nature, fans have their favourite star athletes and/or teams. In fact, during international events such as the FIFA World Cup, all pundits/analysts are primarily fans of their country's national teams. But being fans still doesn't stop them from being critics of their teams. There was a time Nigerian fans and pundits labeled the Super Eagles as Papa Eagles because the team was not performing well.
Ironically, the author seems to agree with me when he talked about neutrality in presentation on page 68. He says: “All sports fans, sportscasters inclusive, have individual preferences in terms of teams and players.” The key point is to know when and where to draw the line between being a fan and an analyst.

THE FINAL CHAPTER (chapter 10) of the book is appropriately titled Sportscasting Career Tips. The author delved into his wealth of experience to advise budding sportscasters on how to excel in a very competitive industry. 

He advises them to be ready to pay their dues, multi-task, carve a niche for themselves, be humble, and have fun while pursuing their careers. He concludes by recommending further readings and personal development courses in a continuous quest for excellence.

I find the majority of the author's claims and admonitions in this book as time-tested professional principles that define successful careers in sportscasting. My only major area of disagreement is in chapter nine which I have addressed.

Otherwise, the breezy and concise presentation style and format of the book and the lucid prose in which it is written are attributes the book shares with the author and which make it so enjoyable to read.

The author's profile on the back of the book mentions “90 Minutes” as one of the television programmes he has been involved in producing. Well, it took far less than 90 minutes for me to read The Basics of Sportscasting from the cover to the back. The moment I started reading, it was simply unputdownable! 

I started this book review with a personal story and I will like to end it with one. Several years ago, I was in my bathroom preparing for the day's work when Sports Express, the daily morning sports news radio show headlined by the Sportsvision crew of Deji Omotoyinbo, Deji Tinubu and Bode Oguntuyi came on the air-waves.
As usual, it was Deji Omotoyinbo who anchored the show and when it was all over, he signed off in his traditional style: “Thank you for your time with us on Sports Express! Good morning.”

I was alone in my bathroom. But I responded aloud as if anyone could hear me: He is “simply the BEST!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I was referring to Deji Omotoyinbo. And I hereby restate voluntarily in public what I pronounced involuntarily in the privacy of my bathroom on that fateful day: Deji Omotoyinbo is the best of his generation in Nigerian sportscasting. 

If you buy a copy of his book, The Basics of Sportscasting, you're buying a book by a legend. 
I thank you very much for your attention.