Opinion / 28 July 2019, 12:10pm / clinton van der berg
If you’ve ever watched any of those wildlife shows that abound on television you’ll have seen a lion bring down an impala.
As vicious as it so often is, it’s no worse than how fans and media tend to treat the SA football coach. The lion kill is often less bloody and, let’s face it, a more honest representation of nature doing what it must.
Stuart Baxter has been flayed in recent weeks with media, fans, and even coaches who should know better, calling for his axing.
Occupying the coach’s seat is a perilous position in SA sport, which veers dangerously between acclaim and assassination. Stuart himself went from dead man walking at the start of the recent African Cup of Nations to coaching sage after the defeat of Egypt. There is no middle ground, much less rational thinking.
Owen Da Gama of Highlands Park wants him out, ostensibly in favour of a coach who advocates the “South African way”, whatever that may be. He talks about the speed and skill and explosiveness of SA soccer, as if those qualities are particular only to our game.
What he neglects to mention is that a long line of local coaches have been used, all of them ultimately fired for one reason or another.
The only consistent element in our game is how frequently coaches are bounced. Patience, like goals, is in short supply. Since Carlos Queiroz in 2000, Bafana Bafana have spun wildly on the merry-go-round, with 18 coaches coming and going.
Evidently, job security isn’t high on the list of perks.
The problem with firing Baxter is that it cures nothing when the root causes, whether lack of preparation or resources, don’t change.
Axing the coach may strike some as firm, demonstrative leadership, but it smacks of short-termism and expedience.
Where is the bigger plan? Or the long-term vision?
Baxter was hammered for his conservative approach in SA’s first two matches, and he received particular venom for holding back Thembinkosi Lorch.
These are valid criticisms when watching from afar, but Baxter assessed the danger of playing aggressively at the start and also rationalised that throwing Lorch in the deep end was high-risk.
We now know that the midfielder was undaunted and he scored a pearler against Egypt to give Baxter’s enemies all the ammunition he needed.
Except that Baxter now knows the Pirates man has the ability to lead the charge.
Plus, who is to say it wasn’t a profound decision to keep his powder dry until the most important moment, when Lorch was bursting to show himself?
Baxter is ambivalent about his position, but his recent remarks to The Guardian were telling in how they explained the fraught relationship between the team and the nation.
“If the country is dependent on a result by the national team to give it hope, we fail . . . there’s too much going wrong in the country: getting the electricity shut down every day, the water shortages, the unemployment, you name it. The country’s not hopeful and they’re in a mental stage of depression; I think that gets reflected.”
It’s true. We look earnestly to Bafana Bafana to give us hope in these troubled times.
The coach is no miracle man, and nor should we expect him to be.