Is Baxter the right man to lead Bafana, asks IOL Sport's Rodney Reiners. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – The big question, of course, is whether Stuart Baxter will be the head coach of Bafana Bafana for the final 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier away to Libya in March next year. 

After a 1-1 draw with Nigeria at the FNB Stadium on Saturday, qualification for the SA national football side is still in the balance. 

I guess you could say it’s a case of par for the course - and, truth be told, they only have themselves to blame: both Baxter and his players. The heat is on.

A football team almost always takes on the character of its coach. It’s just the nature of the sport. The coach doesn’t only drum his game plan into the players - in the end, because his voice is the loudest and most important, the nuances of his personality traits as well as his fears and inhibitions rub off too. Herein, is Bafana’s biggest problem and the main reason the team is again limping along in its quest to qualify for a major tournament.

Baxter, by nature, is conservative in approach. He is, first and foremost, a cautious coach. He doesn’t like to take risks. And, while he may tell his players to go out and “be brave”, his personality is already stamped on the mind-set of the players. As such, despite the situation, circumspection is already so ingrained in the attitude and outlook of the team that they find it difficult to break out of this mould.

Baxter, by nature, is conservative in approach and doesn’t like to take risks. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix
Baxter, by nature, is conservative in approach and doesn’t like to take risks. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

We’ve seen enough evidence of it in recent times. Last month Bafana went to Seychelles needing a victory to make qualification easier - they could only manage a drab, dismal 0-0- draw against a bunch of part-timers. They refused to risk and paid the price. (And, to place it into perspective, consider the fact that Libya went there at the weekend and hammered Seychelles 8-1). 

In Johannesburg on Saturday, Nigeria were there for the taking. The Super Eagles were happy with the point, which guaranteed qualification for Afcon 2019, and they allowed Bafana to hog possession and territory. Despite this, and despite the South Africans knowing a win was what was required, they still performed with so little energy and drive. 

What was needed from Bafana, especially in the second half against Nigeria, was a full-on push, with purpose and commitment, and to exert more pressure on the opponents in search of a winner.

And now it leaves the South Africans with a rather tricky trip to Libya in March if they are to secure a place for the continental showpiece in Cameroon next year. Bafana will need a point to qualify; but if they lose to Libya, they will again suffer the embarrassment of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: because, really, after beating Nigeria in Uyo last year, this qualification campaign should have been an easy one for Bafana. And, yet, here we are again.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no truck with Baxter. I am not one to just point fingers at a coach when things go wrong. I believe a coach should be given time and space to implement his philosophy.

To be honest, I don’t think Baxter got much wrong against Nigeria on Saturday, so that’s not really the point. The issue is whether, in the long run, Baxter is the right man for the job. Even if he takes the team to Libya, grabs the point, and qualifies for the 2019 Afcon, the question remains: can Baxter take Bafana to the next level? 

Will he ever be able to unshackle the players and allow them to play with freedom - and, in this way, realise Bafana’s full potential as a team? 

Make up your own mind.


Cape Argus

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