JOHANNESBURG - Even as a firm believer that Stuart Baxter is the right man for the Bafana Bafana job, I, too, was quite puzzled to hear him claim that qualification for the 2018 World Cup was not a “written mandate” before proceeding to ask us to be patient as he builds a new team. My goodness, Stuart, you are taking us for a ride here.
And it’s not a very snugly one, unfortunately. It’s costly.
I read a report soon after the national team lost the ticket to Russia on Friday that this elimination means that Safa has potentially lost out on more than R140 million by not going to the tournament next year.
We were all still licking our wounds when Baxter, who I strongly consider to have been an upgrade on his predecessor Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, crossed the line by telling all and sundry that his objective was never to make it to the World Cup.
I am not sure waiting a few days would have softened the blow either, but the coach should have chosen his words carefully. To rub salt into the wound, Baxter then attempted to sell us his dream of changing the way logistics are run at Safa following the Andile Jali blunder (the player was apparently suspended for the Senegal game last week until the coach found out 48-hours before kick-off that the midfielder was in fact available for selection) and how he will gradually phase out the old guard.
He might just get away with it, given the fact that it would prove to be another dent in the pocket for his cash-strapped employers to send him packing considering paying out the remainder of his five-year contract would not come cheap.
Perhaps Baxter didn’t have enough time to think through his defeat speech, sure. But to offer rebuilding on top of having denied his job was to get to the World Cup was downright ludicrous. And this is a man who has, for weeks, harped on about South Africa being a nation of extremes - incredibly hospitable, but also capable of all kinds of horrific crimes.
He was not oblivious to the backlash that would follow Friday’s result. The loss was likely, but would have still come as a shock. Who doesn’t want to go to the World Cup?
Even national teams measured to be minnows all over the globe hire and fire coaches exclusively on whether they have achieved this task or not.
The coach was taken to the cleaners recently for his poor tactics in the back-to-back defeats against Cape Verde in September. That is pretty much where our World Cup hopes were shattered.
What came his way last Friday after the Sadio Mane-led Senegal ripped through the Bafana defence to book their place at the World Cup with an efficient 2-0 victory at Peter Mokaba Stadium was twofold, the amount of criticism directed at Baxter for the disaster in Praia and Durban two months ago.
I most certainly did not expect Baxter to spend the few minutes before making his way to the post-match conference drafting his resignation later, but I also did not anticipate the coach to issue a blatant disregard for the job he was recruited to do.
Whatever his blueprint for success is, he must still win important games. Rebuilding should be part of the plan, not an excuse when Plan A has gone wrong. Baxter’s indecisiveness and twisting the truth could be his downfall.