Stuart Baxter gives instructions during a Bafana training session. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - His predecessors ultimately lost the plot, getting emotional when challenged on their selection criteria and whether they were ideal for the hot seat when the going got tough.

It’s early days yet, but I have been impressed with Stuart Baxter’s resolve since he took over as Bafana coach. The current national team boss hasn’t necessarily been on the receiving end of any harsh criticism so far in this, his second tenure, but much of what has come his way has been akin to water off a ducks’ back.

When Bafana were firing blanks during Pitso Mosimane's time in charge between 2010 and 2012, the coach called on South Africans to find him a forward who could rattle the net fearlessly and consistently if they didn’t want him to carry on picking Katlego Mphela, a striker he felt was the best the country had to offer at the time.

And then in his final days as national team coach, Mosimane fired several salvos aimed at the press as well as the public, claiming the South African Football Association (Safa), his employers, would do no better if they sent him packing for having failed to quality for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations as he was one of the best coaches in the continent.

A factual statement, perhaps, but ill-timed. He was speaking on the back of two draws, against Zambia and Ghana, two sides who had arranged friendly matches with Bafana in preparation for that tournament.

Mosimane was eventually shown the door by Safa and replaced with Gordon Igesund, a man who simply loved the sound of his own voice. His paranoia was eventually his undoing.

Most recently Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba occupied the hot seat. A loveable guy, who was so irked by being labelled a cheap option, so much so that his obsession with wanting to hit back at his detractors overshadowed the first year of his tenure.

Results, positive ones mostly, are what really matters when you are the Bafana coach. But, as Mashaba would know, the Safa hierarchy also care a lot about the associations’ public image.

Baxter has had an answer for every tricky question being thrown at him. While in Nigeria ahead of beating the Super Eagles for the first time ever in a qualifying match, the coach was asked how he would react to the backlash should he come up short in the opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier despite meticulously ticking all the boxes.

“I mean some guy that’s just come out of the shebeen and he’s writing on twitter about me - why should I worry about that?" was Baxter’s answer. 

"Because the problem is that if you do worry if that becomes an issue for me the only result is that South Africa have a coach who’s not doing his job.

"I’ve got to make sure that I’m ticking the boxes. And if I’m ticking the boxes the chance that we’re going to be better both today and going forward is higher,” 

He was under the microscope again with his recent squad selection for the back-to-back qualifiers against Cape Verde when he picked veterans Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels.

But the Scotsman was composed in explaining his logic, which was the need to win and get to the World Cup. Given that we haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 2002, I would argue that’s a pretty solid explanation.

The Star

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