Baxter’s back against the wall

Stuart Baxter

Stuart Baxter has been reappointed as Bafana Bafana coach, but is the Scotsman doomed for failure? MARSHALL GOUTS explores.

The almost five-month long debacle finally came to an end on 4 May when Safa revealed that it had agreed on terms with SuperSport United regarding the services of the 63-year-old.

So the inevitable question is: Will Baxter succeed in his second stint in charge of a national team marred by external influences?

The former England U19 mentor initially took over the reins at Bafana on 1 April 2005, but only lasted for 16 games until November 2016, boasting a relatively dismal record of three draws, six wins and seven losses. Baxter resigned after his failure to lead South Africa to the 2006 World Cup and cited the lack of support he received during his time in the hot seat, in addition to revealing that his ideas for the future were not being implemented.

The local football fraternity showed mixed responses to the appointment of Baxter and the overwhelming concern seems to be centered around the former Kaizer Chiefs mentor’s reliance on more experienced players, his dismal previous stint as coach and the mandate used by Safa to identify Baxter as the man for the job.

Whether it be good or bad, Baxter’s reputation as a coach precedes him and particularly in local football, where the 63-year-old mentor enjoyed success with both Chiefs and SuperSport – leading the Glamour Boys to two league titles, the Nedbank Cup and the MTN8 trophy. In his first season at Matsatsantsa, Baxter secured the Nedbank Cup and he is two games away from becoming the first coach to retain that title after SuperSport defeated Chiefs to reach the semi-finals of this year’s competition.

So with a proven track record in South African football, why are detractors lambasting the re-appointment of Baxter?

The process that Safa undertook to hire the new coach is what has many people up in arms.

Shakes Mashaba was given the boot in December 2016 and a committee, which included national team legends Benni McCarthy and Lucas Radebe, were tasked with finding Mashaba’s replacement in February.

The initial shortlist of coaches reportedly included Carlos Querioz, Herve Renard, Hugo Broos, Ruud Krol and Gavin Hunt, with the selected candidate needing to have experience of guiding a club or country to a continental tournament or World Cup, as they would be mandated with qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations.

Baxter’s tenure as Finland national team coach (February 2008 – November 2010) came to an abrupt end after a string of poor results, which saw the side drop from 33rd to 86th in the Fifa World Rankings. The saga was made worse by Baxter’s refusal to resign as coach, added to the fact that he laid into journalists for reportedly not understanding his tactics. After his stint at Chiefs, Baxter joined Turkish club Genclerbirligi, but that too only lasted for a brief period as the mentor’s contract was terminated after losing the two opening matches of the campaign.

I don’t think Baxter should be judged based on these facts, but rather by the huge strides in progress he has made within South African football, coupled with his international experience. I don’t believe the criticism aimed at Baxter’s defensive-minded approach will yield much weight, if Bafana are delivering the goods? Football is a results-orientated game!

If South Africa were to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a squad average age of say 28-30 years old, would there be an outcry as there is when we fail to qualify for these spectacles? I’m by no means suggesting that the youth be discarded or that the progress of predecessor, Mashaba be undone.

The notion of building for the future will inevitably get you sacked in this country. How many times have we seen past coaches talking about ‘building for the future?’, more importantly, where has that got them?

Baxter’s preference of experienced campaigners will no doubt come under the spotlight and what this will mean for budding young talents such as Luther Singh, Phakamani Mahlambi and Percy Tau, only time will tell. But I am confident, as so should the nation, that Baxter will look to best utilise the huge pool of talent that he has at his disposal.

His understanding of local football paralled with his vast international experience is ultimately what got him the job, he has had previous dealings with Safa, so he knows what this job entails.

He ultimately knows that being the coach of the South African football team is not for the feint-hearted. Baxter will have to show his worth in his new position with his first task of order being a tricky assignment – an Afcon qualifier away to Nigeria.

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix