How Stuart Baxter became Bafana coach again


JOHANNESBURG – They announced it like nobody had a clue it was Stuart Baxter all along, but at least the drama, lies and deceit are over after the South African Football Association (Safa) on Thursday afternoon confirmed the 63-year-old as the new Bafana Bafana coach.

Baxter had told SuperSport United players a few hours prior to the official announcement that he had accepted the vacant national team job, and would be leaving the club at the end of the 2016-17 season for his second stint with Bafana.

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Stuart Baxter is set to be released for the Bafana Afcon clash with Nigeria, and then return to SuperSport if they reach a cup final. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePixCarlos Queiroz has a long-term contract with the Iranian national team. Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh, EPAHerve Renard has achieved great success in Africa with Zambia and Ivory Coast. Photo: Chris Ricco, BackpagePix

He will be unveiled to the press and media as soon as Safa president Danny Jordaan returns from Egypt, where he is attending important CAF executive meetings.

The news ended what has been a drawn-out and at times bewildering search to replace Shakes Mashaba, who was sacked in December last year after an outburst in full view of his bosses at the Peter Mokaba Stadium shortly after South Africa beat Senegal 2-1 in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier.

Safa had initially promised to announce a new coach at the end of February, and it was widely speculated that either Carlos Queiroz or Herve Renard would take over.

But a €7 million (about R103.9 million) resignation clause by the Iran Football Association ruled Queiroz out, while Renard’s demands are believed to have been too high.

Carlos Queiroz has a long-term contract with the Iranian national team. Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh, EPA

Hugo Broos, who won this year’s Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon, was also a likely appointment, but his agent reportedly wanted a share of his annual salary.

Safa then turned to Baxter late last month, with SuperSport releasing a statement on March 30 to confirm the club was allowing the coach to speak to the association about the unoccupied Bafana post.

There have been plenty of delays, with SuperSport’s Absa Premiership chase suffering as a result because – by Baxter’s own admission – the players were affected by his imminent departure.

It wasn’t until late on Wednesday that Safa claimed they had agreed a coaching contract with the ideal candidate, although they did not name Baxter, only committing to giving more details a day or two later. And this time they weren’t pulling the wool over our eyes.

“SuperSport United and the South African Football Association have agreed terms on the release of coach Stuart Baxter for Bafana at the end of the current PSL season,” read the statement, which was sent out at 4.39pm on Thursday.

“The SuperSport United coach will, meanwhile, continue to fulfil his coaching responsibilities at the club for the remaining four Absa Premiership fixtures, as well as the Nedbank Cup and Confederation Cup.

“Safa and SuperSport United have agreed to work together to ensure that Baxter gets time off post the final league match on May 27 to prepare Bafana Bafana for the upcoming Afcon match against Nigeria.”

Finally – it was a long wait, nearly five months, to be precise.

Herve Renard has achieved great success in Africa with Zambia and Ivory Coast. Photo: Chris Ricco, BackpagePix

It is likely that he will sign a five-year contract and tasked with helping Bafana qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year, as well as the 2019 Afcon.

He told SuperSport players following their goalless draw at home against Bloemfontein Celtic on Wednesday that he was leaving at the end of the season.

Baxter’s first official match could be a trip away to Nigeria next month, on the weekend of June 9-11, for a qualifier for the 2019 Afcon.

SuperSport appear to have assured Safa that he will be available, even if they progress to the final of the Nedbank Cup, which is scheduled for June 24 in Durban. That is a week or so after Bafana face Nigeria in their Afcon qualification opener.

Baxter was meeting with SuperSport chief executive Stan Matthews late on Thursday evening to discuss his exit strategy.

Matthews has on several occasions expressed his dissatisfaction at how the delay has affected his team and planning for next season.

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