Stu­art Bax­ter

It is rare to be af­forded a chance to make a sec­ond im­pres­sion, es­pe­cially after the first one was not as suc­cess­ful as hoped back in Stu­art Bax­ter’s first spell in 2004 and 2005. How­ever, the Brit is now back at the helm to help carve out the way for Sou

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

The Bafana Bafana coach urges ev­ery­one to get on board with his long-term plan.

Fif­teen years have lapsed since Bafana last earned their way into world foot­ball’s big­gest com­pe­ti­tion, when Por­tuguese man­ager Car­los Queiros lead the coun­try to the Korea/Ja­pan World Cup in 2002. Seven­teen ap­point­ments later, all eyes are now on Bax­ter to lead the na­tion to the 2018 fi­nals in Rus­sia. Hav­ing been ap­pointed at the start of June, as a suc­ce­sor to Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba who was sacked in Novem­ber 2016, Bax­ter has more than just the job of suc­ces­fully lead­ing a team through World Cup, Na­tions Cup, Chan qual­i­fi­ca­tion and Cosafa fix­tures, but is also tasked with con­vinc­ing more than 55-mil­lion South Africans that he can suc­cess­fully fol­low through with Safa’s tech­ni­cal mas­ter­plan dubbed ‘ Vi­sion 2022’. It is only since ‘ Vi­sion 2022’ has come into ef­fect that we have seen a turn-around in the ju­nior na­tional teams’ per­for­mances, with the men’s Un­der-17 side qual­i­fy­ing for the Fifa U-17 World Cup in 2015 for the first time in the coun­try’s his­tory, the un­der-20s par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2017 Fifa U-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009, while the Un­der-23s qual­i­fied for the 2016 Olympic Games for the first time since 2000. Thus it is of cru­cial im­por­tance that these gen­er­a­tions be groomed and looked after as we build to­wards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but at the same time Bax­ter be­lieves it would be a great loss to dis­card what the “Class of 2009” achieved when they qual­i­fied for the U-20 World Cup in Egypt. “I think you’ve got to take ev­ery ad­van­tage that’s been gained in the past, and try and en­cor­po­rate that in any vi­sion you’ve got go­ing for­ward,” says Bax­ter. “We only have a few play­ers that have been given the ex­pe­ri­ence of World Cups, be­cause we’ve not qual­i­fied for them in the past, so we’ve got to try and get the most out of that in­vest­ment.” The Bri­tish tac­ti­cian called up seven (eight prior to the with­drawal of goal­keeper Dar­ren Keet due to a knee in­jury) of the play­ers from Ser­ame Let­soaka’s ju­nior squad to his camp to pre­pare for the all-im­por­tant Cape Verde fix­tures, with these pos­si­bly mak­ing up the core of the Bafana team for next year’s World Cup as a ‘re­turn on in­vest­ment’ of sorts. “Yes, that is a thought in our minds that we need to use the in­vest­ment we’ve got in some play­ers to see if they can be the play­ers for the fu­ture, but also not ex­clu­sively be­cause you get play­ers de­vel­op­ing at dif­fer­ent stages,” he adds. “The play­ers that should have been play­ing then [2009] maybe weren’t de­vel­oped, but they are com­ing strong now. But in any sort of process you’ve got to try and use ev­ery bit of lever­age you can get to bring the best out of the squad.”

More re­cently Owen Da Gama guided the na­tional U-23 team to the semi-fi­nals of the African Cham­pi­onships in Sene­gal, sub­se­quently land­ing a place at the Rio Games, where the likes of Ab­bubakar Mo­bara, Keagan Dolly and Ri­valdo Coet­zee gained valu­able ex­pere­ince on a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional stage. This too was con­sid­ered by Bax­ter and his tech­ni­cal team, while he ex­plains that the more ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers of the squad could be con­sid­ered ‘late bloomers’. “The Olympic team also has some in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, and if the play­ers are good enough then there is a sort of se­lec­tion process, and they will get an op­por­tu­nity,” as­sures the former Su­per­Sport United and Kaizer Chiefs men­tor. “You may not be good enough at the mo­ment, but you may come back into the sys­tem and get a late op­por­tu­nity, but there’s a se­lec­tion progress al­ready go­ing on.” With more than 70 per­cent of the play­ers in the squad for the Cape Verde qual­i­fiers lo­cally based, Bax­ter also ad­mits that the fi­nan­cial growth of the Premier Soc­cer League now means ply­ing your trade in a lower di­vi­sion in some of the smaller Euro­pean leagues has be­come of less value than play­ing for a do­mes­tic club that reg­u­larly com­petes in CAF club com­pe­ti­tions. “Of course, you’ll get that the PSL is stronger and bet­ter funded now, so you will get play­ers that don’t feel the move [abroad] is worth it,” he says. “Why go to a sec­ond di­vi­sion team in Bel­gium if you can play for Mamelodi Sundowns? Of course you’re go­ing to get that, and we have to recog­nise that this is ac­tu­ally bet­ter. We’ve got to ad­mit that the ex­pe­ri­ence they get at a club like Sundowns is a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence than they’re go­ing to get there [in a Euro­pean lower di­vi­sion]. They will play against African in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion.” Bax­ter feels the key to mak­ing Bafana an African pow­er­house again is bring­ing all these groups and play­ers to­gether, to form one united na­tional team that can per­form at the re­quired level on the in­ter­na­tional stage, with­out plac­ing too much value on the in­di­vid­u­als’ abil­ity and tal­ent. “You’ve got to take all of that into ac­count, de­cide how you want to play and de­ter­mine which play­ers lend them­selves to be­ing in­ter­na­tional play­ers. It’s not al­ways the best play­ers that can man­age the in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” he ex­plains. “I know that when [former Italy coach] Mar­cello Lippi left his job, he said he had ‘the three tech­ni­cally best play- ers in the coun­try’ avail­able when Italy won the World Cup [in 2006], ‘but they just couldn’t hack in­ter­na­tional foot­ball’. “What he meant was play­ers not be­ing able to come into camp, not know­ing the play­ers they’re go­ing to play with, not know­ing about the play­ers they’re go­ing to play against, have three or four ses­sions and then be able to give a per­for­mance. He said they couldn’t do that. He said, ‘I got ham­merred when I left them at home, but it was about find­ing out who are the best in­ter­na­tional play­ers.’ So there’s all those dy­nam­ics that you’ve got to put to­gether, give the play­ers the op­por­tu­nity to get the ex­pe­ri­ence, and still bring it to­gether so that the squad of play­ers you get is ready to play for the coun­try.”

Re­sults ver­sus de­vel­op­ment

Bax­ter’s big­gest chal­lenge – in ac­cor­dance with Safa’s long-term vi­sion – is see­ing out the pre­vi­ously men­tioned process while still man­ag­ing to blood in young tal­ent and en­sur­ing sus­tain­abil­ity of the na­tional team beyond the present squad, and at the same time en­sur­ing the team does not fail to qual­ify and rep­re­sent the coun­try to a sat­is­fac­tory level at ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments. “That is a bit of a core ques­tion, and my an­swer to that is: we have to change our think­ing,” re­sponds Bax­ter. “With­out talk­ing about how Safa’s men­tal­ity to­wards

“We all need to get on the same page.”

games be­fore, or how the coaches be­fore me have thought, ba­si­cally ev­ery coach wants to stay in a job – if the ex­pec­ta­tions of his em­ployer, the me­dia, the sup­port­ers and the stake­hold­ers is that he wins ev­ery game, then no de­vel­op­ment can take place be­cause he won’t take risks. “If I’m go­ing to take risks by bring­ing in a younger player that, in a must-win game, will not maybe give me the qual­ity per­for­mance of an older player, then I won’t take a risk and de­vel­op­ment won’t take place. When I came into the job, I wanted ev­ery­body to think about – and we’ve spo­ken about this al­ready – aims and ob­jec­tives for ev­ery game. The Zam­bia game, for me, was about de­vel­op­ment. It was about get­ting in­for­ma­tion about the play­ers, such as ‘which play­ers could maybe go into the team in the fu­ture’; ‘can this one play that po­si­tion?’ And I run the risk of los­ing 2-1 to Zam­bia. After dom­i­nat­ing the game in the first half, and mak­ing tac­ti­cal changes in the sec­ond, we lose 2-1 – do I like it? No, but that game is im­por­tant for us. “We’ve all got to get this: stop win­ning the less im­por­tant games be­cause win­ning isn’t ev­ery­thing, but be pre­pared to bring in the young­sters and in­vest time in them. Bring in play­ers that are maybe com­ing in through the back door as we’ve spo­ken about, and in­vest that time into strength­en­ing the squad, deepen the pool of play­ers, and in that case you then start pri­ori­tis­ing. World Cup qual­i­fiers are not about de­vel­op­ment, I don’t want to make ex­cuses. “In a friendly game like the Zam­bia one, I can say to you I was happy with that game and what it gave me – not happy with the re­sult of course, be­cause we do want to win ev­ery game even though we don’t want to say, ‘we’re throw­ing this game away in the name of de­vel­op­ment.’ In back-to-back World Cup qual­i­fiers it’s about get­ting the win and mov­ing on. I don’t want to end up say­ing, ‘well, we lost 2-1 but the young boy at left­back did re­ally well’ – no, that shouldn’t be the case. “We all need to get on the same page, and know the rea­son why we’re la­belling a cer­tain game ‘de­vel­op­ment’ and a dif­fer­ent one ‘re­sult’— that’s what we’ve got to change. Is it Safa that has got to change? Yes, be­cause that re­flects on the coach and how creative he can be and how many risks he will take. If it’s the me­dia and the sup­port­ers that are ready to just dive in and ham­mer that player, be­cause he made a mis­take and we lost the game, yes we need to change! “This is why we spoke about Chan and Cosafa – where will that serve us best? Do we scrape to­gether a bunch of PSL hope­fuls or peo­ple that have failed ear­lier on, and just scrape through the game? Or do we run the risk of not win­ning the game by play­ing seven un­der-19 play­ers? I think for me it’s a stick-on. And then con­sider the young South African: when he looks at his path for­ward, and he says ‘yes, I can see the path – that’s where it will take me, and it will fin­ish there be­cause I can see my role model. I can see a Keagan Dolly – in four years, I can fol­low his path’ – I think that’s in­spring. “There are many rea­sons we’ve got to get that right. We’ve got to get ev­ery­body on board. Will there be voices that come up that don’t agree with it? Yes, of course there will, but if the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple – sup­port­ers, me­dia, Safa, clubs, play­ers, stake­hold­ers – if they all un­der­stand the ra­tio­nale and get be­hind it, then that’s a good day for South Africa and we can then work for­ward from that.” Fur­ther­more, the 64-year-old points out

“Is It safa that has got to change? Yes.”

that a change in men­tal­ity is needed by all South Africans, in terms of the way for­ward and reach­ing the des­ti­na­tion set out as ‘ Vi­sion 2022’. “There’s an old Chi­nese proverb: ‘Don’t look at your des­tiny, keep your eyes on the path.’ The path for us is camp by camp, but the des­tiny is the fi­nal re­sult. Now we ob­vi­ously do care about where we go, but how we get there is what’s re­ally im­por­tant. If we just keep car­ing about win­ning; do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to win the next game, and the next game, then we have to pick the team that played against Nige­ria or Cape Verde and we play them against Zam­bia [in a friendly] as well, be­cause ‘it’s so im­por­tant to win this game.’ “Well, I ques­tioned that. I ques­tioned it from many points of view. I can’t ar­gue with it. If ev­ery game is equally im­por­tant then I can’t ar­gue. If the gen­eral pub­lic say to me that we can never af­ford to lose a game, and if Safa say I’m sacked if we lose all these games, then I can’t ar­gue. I will then be the same as ev­ery­one else, and say, ‘Let me pick my strong­est team be­cause I don’t have the chance to play this young cen­tre-back or that young full­back.’ I think if we all get on the same page, it’s a health­ier place to be, and the pos­si­bil­i­ties are also a lot more dy­namic,” he con­cludes.

Above: Bax­ter chats to Bafana striker, Tokelo Rantie. Main pic: Na­tional team coach, Stu­art Bax­ter, with his play­ers dur­ing a Bafana Bafana train­ing Ses­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.