Lee Baxter chats with Ronwen Williams and Itumeleng Khune during Bafana training this week. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix
Stuart Baxter knew what he was getting himself into when he hired his son as Bafana Bafana’s goalkeeper coach to replace Andre Arendse who had a family emergency.

It was a power move from Baxter to force the hand of the South African Football Association (Safa) to finalise his technical team having dilly-dallied for more than a year. As expected, Lee Baxter’s appointment was met with outrage and accusations of nepotism. Stuart fuelled the fires by basically saying that people who are outraged by his decision don’t know football in a condescending defence of appointing his son, a son who was initially on his original list of his preferred technical team staff.

Baxter overplayed his hand with that statement because he now became the villain instead of the people who haven’t met their end of the bargain.

The move to appoint his son killed two birds with one stone; it got Baxter a replacement at short notice, someone who has worked with Itumeleng Khune, Ronwen Williams and Baxter, and it made public the fact that Baxter doesn’t have a permanent technical team.

Safa messed up in this regard because Baxter’s team should have been finalised a long time ago. When you appoint someone, you want to give him all that he needs so that he doesn’t have any complaints should he fail. This has also put a strain on Baxter’s relationship with Thabo Senong and Molefi Ntseki because he is making it obvious that ideally he wouldn’t be working with the pair, so then how do you expect them to wholeheartedly work with a man who has moaned about not having “his people” every chance he’s got?

Baxter’s biggest challenge in his first stint as Bafana coach was that he didn’t understand the political dynamics of South African football. He has improved in that regard, helped by the years he spent at Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United. He was playing the politics by appointing his son because he knew the reaction and that would force Safa’s hand. Don’t be surprised if his technical team is finalised before the next qualifiers. But what Baxter must get is that short-term victories shouldn’t cost him at the end.

He isn’t the country’s nor the organisation’s preferred candidate to lead Bafana. Safa settled on him after failing to get their preferred first, second and third choice. His appointment was a damp squib for the public who waited a long time, expecting to get a high-profile coach with continental pedigree only to have a man who was right under their nose get the job despite his failure in Africa. Baxter should be on the charm offensive to win over the public while silently fighting his battle with Safa who constantly redefine the word incompetence.

Baxter will not lose his job because of results. That will be a factor but what will eventually cost him his job is not playing the politics game well. The job of the national team coach is part tactician and part politician. Diplomacy needs to be your middle name. Timing is everything in politics. Baxter could do anything after the win over Nigeria. But after that long break and a poor showing in the Cosafa Cup played on home soil, Baxter is back to square one in terms of winning over the fans. The British coach must know that his tenure will be one long audition, which means he must watch his words and play the politics game smarter. If he doesn’t, he won’t be here next year.

*Ngidi is a football writer for New Frame


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