JOHANNESBURG – Stuart Baxter can be a little naïve.
To be honest, appointing his son Lee as goalkeeper coach for Bafana Bafana’s crucial Afcon qualifier against Libya doesn’t rub me up the wrong way. But it’s not difficult to understand why there’s a backlash.
Listening to national team coach Baxter explaining why he’s chosen Lee to replace Andre Arendse (who had to withdraw for personal reasons), it’s obvious he can be a tad cynical, too.
“We don’t have time to go wondering around the country interviewing people. If anybody sees it (Lee’s appointment) as anything else than the best and most viable decision that we could make‚ I’d be massively surprised.
“Lee is the most qualified by a country mile,” the coach told journalists in Durban, where Bafana will host Libya. “It’s not as if I’ve run out and plucked my son in the second he’s landed in this country. He’s been working with Chiefs and has worked with SuperSport.
“And people will always have opinions. And they don’t always have to be well-founded. Never let the truth get in the way of a good moan.”
Lee, who has been the Amakhosi goalkeeper coach since February and has previously worked with his father in SA and Turkey, is indeed highly qualified – the best man for the job, but maybe not in this context.
Then again, who would have been available at such short notice to step in other than the man who has worked with both No 1 Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams and also have the added advantage of knowing nearly half the squad?
What’s become obvious, however, is that Baxter has consistently struggled to understand his surroundings. He muddied the waters when he suggested his employers hire Lee as part of his backroom staff when he was given the Bafana job in May last year, and some feel he’s finally got his wish, albeit just for one game.
Baxter then insisted on Joshua Smith being brought in as fitness trainer, while sidelining Kabelo Rangoaga, who’d been in the job prior to him taking over.
Rangoaga was told he would rotate Bafana camps with Smith, but that hasn’t happened since the Cape Verde trip 12 months ago. The qualifications of both Lee and Smith aren’t the issue here, but rather the socio-political landscape in this country.
Think about it: a white coach, hiring his son after snubbing a capable black conditioning trainer for his white counterpart – that’s a recipe for disaster in SA.
By the way, he has also overlooked doctor Thulani Ngwenya, who has all the medical history of the Bafana players currently in camp because he’s worked with most of them since 2014, for Jerome Mampane, who also works for Chiefs.
Perhaps Baxter preferred someone else, given that Ngwenya did not have his contract with Safa renewed recently.
Could it be that Baxter’s desire to always want to work with people he knows and trusts is a blind spot?
To a degree, you can’t blame him, as coaches live and die by their decisions when in the hot seat after all – it’s their head on the chopping block.
When all this is looked at in isolation, there seems to be no violation of Safa’s code of conduct.
But when you have been hired for a job in which some people feel your predecessor was unfairly dismissed, and you’ve not been able to secure World Cup qualification, you simply just have to be a little more alert and politically savvy.
Baxter isn’t, and that, not necessarily Bafana’s results, could be his downfall.