‘Drain­ing’ CHAN not worth it, Stu

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE

STU­ART Bax­ter, the Bafana Bafana coach on the quest to qual­i­fy­ing the na­tional team to next year’s World Cup in Rus­sia, yes­ter­day de­scribed the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onships (CHAN) as an “en­er­gys­ap­ping” event that should be down­graded to a devel­op­ment project.

Bax­ter meant no dis­re­spect to the or­gan­is­ers CAF, but hav­ing had to pre­pare his side to face Zam­bia in East Lon­don on Satur­day in the first leg of a clash that guar­an­tees South Africa a spot in a com­pe­ti­tion more com­monly known as CHAN, while build­ing up to two back-to-back World Cup qual­i­fiers against Cape Verde early next month has left the coach feel­ing like he should be putting his time to bet­ter use else­where.

The na­tional team camp has also been dealt many blows with the with­drawal of more than 10 play­ers (and more are ex­pected to re­turn to their clubs be­fore the sec­ond leg in Ndola, Zam­bia, next week­end) due to the start of the 2017/18 do­mes­tic sea­son and the fact that th­ese matches are sched­uled out­side the Fifa cal­en­dar.

Bax­ter has had to go cap in hand plead­ing with Pre­mier Soc­cer League clubs, who are not un­der any obli­ga­tion to re­lease any of their squad mem­bers, for play­ers.

“This should not be a se­nior event,” said the Scots­man. “I sent an e-mail to the as­so­ci­a­tion (his bosses at Safa) with the rec­om­men­da­tion that we re­ally need to eval­u­ate where we put our en­ergy now. This event is so time-con­sum­ing and en­ergy-sap­ping that I am not get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to do what I think I should be do­ing.”

Safa had given the im­pres­sion that Bax­ter’s as­sis­tant, Thabo Senong, would be in charge of the CHAN squad to af­ford the coach the op­por­tu­nity to look ahead to the trip to Cape Verde on Septem­ber 1 and the re­turn match four days later in Dur­ban, but that idea went only as far as the Botswana match in the sec­ond leg of the pre­vi­ous round.

“I should be look­ing at not be­ing a full part of this,” Bax­ter con­tin­ued. “I think this can be handed over to the devel­op­ment de­part­ment. Thabo is devel­op­ment, and so are the play­ers se­lected be­cause there is just no way we are go­ing to get the guys that played against Nige­ria (in an Africa Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fier in June). I need to get away and do some proper work. I don’t feel com­fort­able putting this much en­ergy into an event that is not go­ing to serve South Africa as well as if I was pre­par­ing for Cape Verde. I have been ask­ing my­self this right through this jour­ney. The amount of time that has been put in by my­self, Thabo and ev­ery­one else… we are do­ing it be­cause it’s our duty, not be­cause we think it’s well in­vested.”

Bax­ter spent nine days in Italy, Swe­den and Eng­land last month as­sess­ing some of South Africa’s over­seas con­tin­gent and also try­ing to con­vince Joel Un­ter­see, a 23-year-old de­fender who was born in Jo­han­nes­burg and is cur­rently con­tracted to Ju­ven­tus, to con­sider play­ing for Bafana in­stead of his adopted coun­try Switzer­land. There was another player in the UK he pre­sented a sim­i­lar of­fer, but wouldn’t re­veal his name.

“We have had to have nine or 10 meet­ings about squad se­lec­tion. I was in Europe vis­it­ing a cou­ple of play­ers and all the time I am on the phone with Thabo dis­cussing play­ers that have pulled out. It was just un­end­ing. This has cost more time, prob­a­bly, than pre­par­ing for Nige­ria,” Bax­ter ex­plained.

All th­ese play­ers who have been called up over the past sev­eral weeks will earn caps as CAF feel the tour­na­ment is wor­thy of be­ing cat­e­gorised as a se­nior team ap­pear­ance.

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