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

Kick Off - - INSIDE - WORDS BY JEREMY BROCKIE | Twit­ter: @JRBrockie

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


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