Our guest columnist backs Baxter to shine with Bafana
New Zealand striker Jeremy Brockie won two Nedbank Cup trophies un under Stuart Baxter since joining Super Sport United in 2015. Now that his former mentor has assumed the Bafana Bafana coaching reins full time, Brockie believes the Brit will be nothing b
When I heard Stuart Baxter had been confirmed as Bafana Bafana coach, I was left with mixed feelings. On a personal front, I was gutted to see him move on because he has done so much for me as a player and us as a football club. I won my first professional trophy under Baxter at Super Sport United and, when the rumours surfaced, I urged the club to do all they could to keep him. However, the national team role was obviously pretty exciting, and Baxter is the type of manager that likes to challenge himself.
Baxter brought a new meaning
to the term professionalism when he joined as head coach in January 2016. He sold us the dream right from the start and we bought into his methods straight away. I was devastated by the news that the 2016/17 season would be Baxter’s last at Matsatsantsa because he is a big influencer and man-manager off the field. He made the point that when you arrive at a new club you have to earn the respect of the players. However, having won two Absa Premiership titles, a Nedbank Cup and an MTN8 trophy at Kaizer Chiefs, we already had a degree of respect for him. Everyone knew that he was a top coach. When Baxter took over from Gordon Igesund, a number of players were struggling in terms of their confidence levels and we couldn’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, we took to Baxter’s approach like ducks to water because he brought a buzz and sense of enjoyment to the training sessions and lifted our professional standards on and off the field. Stuart had one-on-one sessions with each player at the start of his tenure. I recall him sitting down with me and saying he liked my style of play, but felt that he could utilise me more effectively in the “Number 10” role. He showed me some video clips and worked with me on the training pitch. At first, the adjustment was foreign to me because I have played as the centre forward for the majority of my career. However, I adapted to playing in a deeper-lying position and will be forever grateful to Stuart because he has brought a different dimension to my game. It has definitely benefited me and underscores the fact that you never stop learning as a professional footballer. Coaches always look at whether a player can operate in more than one position and, as a forward, it’s crucial to be able to adapt to any position across the front line. It’s added a further string to my bow. Stuart’s presence was obviously a big reason I resigned with SuperSport United until 2020. It’s more than just a loss from a playing point of view because he is a top individual and was a father-figure to us.
However, I’m happy that Stuart has been afforded a second
chance to coach the South African national team because he has unfinished business with Bafana Bafana.
What will make or break his
tenure this time around? First and foremost, having won a hatful of trophies at domestic level in South Africa, I believe he will have more backing from the supporters and increased buy-in from the players. The obvious difference between managing a club, as opposed to a national side, is that Baxter doesn’t have as much time to work with the Bafana players on the training pitch. However, he knows the players better than before and is aware of how South African football works as a whole. The 2-0 away win over Nigeria in June was a massive boost and a great first up result for him. I’m looking forward to seeing Baxter and his charges build on the victory against Nigeria and, sooner than later, I’m pretty sure those types of results will be the norm rather than the exception. The coach will have a core group of players he will call upon, and the likes of Itumeleng Khune, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Dean Furman and Andile Jali will bring a mix of strength and character to the changing room.
In terms of his coaching
philosophy, Baxter likes his teams to be very solid at the back. As such, he starts by doing a lot of work with the back four and the two or three midfielders he is going to play in front of the defence. However, that’s not to suggest he neglects offence. There are plenty of attacking players with flair and good technique that form the crux of the current national setup and, if his men can get the defensive side of the game right, it will afford the attack-minded players the freedom to venture forward. Baxter is also big on set-piece work and he will look to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses through that avenue. Baxter has been criticised in the past for his seeming reluctance to utilise younger players. However, in my book, he is a sensible boss and will blood young players at the correct times, but won’t just chuck in a young player that is not ready for the rigours of international football. You only have to look at how 20-year-old midfielder Teboho Mokoena blossomed under his tutelage at Matsatsantsa. He was afforded game-time and has since transformed into one of our most consistent performers.
I believe Baxter is the right
manager to balance shortterm results and long-term development. He views the Bafana post as a long-term project and is passionate about developing the local game. However, he is also a pragmatist and has learned lessons from his first stint in charge of the national team. He knows that the only currency universally accepted is results. He won’t please everyone all the time, but I believe that he will prove a success. KO
“HE WON’T PLEASE EVERYONE ALL THE TIME, BUT I BELIEVE THAT HE WILL PROVE A SUCCESS.”