Per our Sunday post on twitter, Owngoalnigeria.com brings to it’s readers the politics, intrigues and power play that led to the axing of Rotherham Semi Ajayi and Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City from the Super Eagles 23 man squad for AFCON 2019.
Ajayi was widely expected to make the squad base on the fact that in the four games he has played for the senior national team of Nigeria he has played at right back, central defence and defensive midfield ,making him one of the few utility players in the team.
However coach Gernot Rohr has already settled for the quartet of Chidozie Awaziem, Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo as his central defenders for the 2019 AFCON.
In the full backs positions, the coach has Ola Aina who can play on the left or right of defence, Shehu Abdullahi can also operate on both flanks with Jamilu Collins picked as the first choice left back of the team.
Moses Simon impressed as left wingback in their training sessions further increasing the options available to the coach and further pushing Ajayi out of the race to make the squad as one of the alternative available as a full back.
In midfield was where the opening now lies for the 24 year old and he was up against John Ogu who is a popular squad member and unites the team with his jokes and jibes on and off the pitch plus his age means this could be his last major tournament for Nigeria. Dropping him for Ajayi who could yet play many tournaments for Nigeria in the future didn’t make sense to Rohr.
Already Rohr has said Ajayi is the replacement for captain John Obi Mikel during his break from the Super Eagles after the World Cup in Russia and not until Mikel bounced back strongly with Middlesbrough following his January transfer, Rohr has already made up his mind to move away from the captain and hand Ajayi the role.
Mikel’s performance for the Championship side and decision to end his international exile was the final straw that ended the AFCON 2019 hopes of Ajayi who also need to solve his club career following the relegation of Rotherham to the third division in England.
Kelechi Iheanacho was handed a life line by Rohr despite his limited game time at Leicester City in the just concluded season and although he scored twice in practice games, he didn’t show enough off the ball like the duo of Paul Onuachu and Victor Osimhen.
The battle for the last striker’s slot was narrowed down to the duo of Osimhen and Iheanacho, although the idea of allowing Osimhen focus on the U23s was mooted, Iheanacho obvious lack of confidence off the ball and sometimes in goal scoring positions during training played nicely for Osimhen who despite not scoring in most sessions played with the conviction of a player who scored over 20 goals in the concluded season.