Coach­ing a club and a na­tional team is a mat­ter of chalk and cheese

CityPress - - Sport - S’Bu­siso Mse­leku sm­se­leku@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Sbu_Mse­leku

If ever there was a sce­nario that once more proves how dif­fer­ent coach­ing a na­tional team is to guid­ing a club, it’s Stu­art Bax­ter’s po­si­tions.

The English­man started with a bang, de­feat­ing Bafana Bafana’s neme­sis Nige­ria 2-0 in Uyo on Satur­day.

But, by the time the match was played, there were al­ready some rum­blings within the na­tional team camp about the pend­ing friendly match against Zam­bia on Tues­day.

What irked the play­ers – with the Bri­ton chip­ping in as well, though a bit diplo­mat­i­cally – was not fac­ing Chipolopolo but the tim­ing and, to some ex­tent, the venue.

Some play­ers com­plained about the lack of rest, given the ex­ten­sive trav­el­ling in­volved be­tween OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, La­gos and then Uyo, re­turn­ing to South Africa and then head­ing off to North West for the friendly game.

Oth­ers men­tioned that they were in the off-season, mean­ing they needed some rest.

And, given all the cir­cum­stances, it came as no sur­prise when Bax­ter named an al­most en­tirely new start­ing line-up, with Andile Jali and Percy Tau the only two play­ers who had seen ac­tion against Nige­ria be­ing named on the sheet.

The loss against Zam­bia damp­ened the spir­its some­what, given the highs at the week­end af­ter that his­toric vic­tory.

How­ever, to be hon­est, Bax­ter was caught be­tween a rock and a hard place – not a very com­fort­able po­si­tion to be in.

While there was a need to give younger and untested play­ers an op­por­tu­nity – which will go a long way to­wards tour­na­ments such as the Cosafa Cas­tle Cup and African Na­tions Championship, which de­mand the use of lo­cally based play­ers only – the na­tion de­mands a win al­most every time the play­ers trot out in na­tional colours.

Also, it is im­per­a­tive for the coach to sus­tain a reg­u­lar team that will gel to­gether dur­ing the forth­com­ing com­pe­ti­tions, such as the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con), as well as the 2018 Rus­sia World Cup qual­i­fiers, which come up later in the year.

This is the co­nun­drum most na­tional coaches find them­selves in – man­ag­ing the bal­anc­ing act.

It is al­ways dif­fi­cult to bal­ance the art of win­ning while de­vel­op­ing play­ers for the fu­ture.

This is where the song of de­vel­op­ment that we have been sing­ing for ages comes in.

The na­tional team should not be a place to ex­per­i­ment and play­ers should be the fin­ished prod­uct by the time they reach se­nior na­tional team level.

A seam­less de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme should also al­low the na­tional coach to have a large pool of play­ers at se­nior level to choose from – play­ers who can be di­vided into two cat­e­gories: se­nior and ju­nior play­ers.

And, de­pend­ing on the cat­e­gory of the match, the coach will have a clear view of which play­ers to utilise.

I doubt that Bax­ter would like to have a record that reads “won one, lost one” right at the be­gin­ning of his ten­ure. But that’s what he has right now.

How­ever, look­ing at how Bax­ter ap­proached the match against Nige­ria, I would say “Way to go!”.

Bafana Bafana played with an amount of zest that we haven’t seen for quite some time.

It was a spir­ited ef­fort sim­i­lar to what we wit­nessed at the be­gin­ning of Shakes Mashaba’s reign.

The key­word for Bax­ter now will be con­sis­tency.

The start was good ... ac­tu­ally, great, and now Bax­ter needs to build on it to en­sure that the team qual­i­fies for next year’s World Cup and the 2019 Af­con.

It is achiev­able, but Bax­ter will have to stay fo­cused and even plan care­fully with the SA Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion re­gard­ing the ar­range­ment of friendly matches.

These should be lined up in such a way that they fit snugly with Bax­ter’s plan of turn­ing Bafana Bafana into the gi­ants that the na­tion dreams about.

One just hopes Tues­day’s blip was just that – a blip – and not part of the pat­tern we have be­come used to of Bafana tak­ing two steps for­wards and 10 steps back­wards.

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