JOHANNESBURG - Stuart Baxter, now faced with the possibility of coming up short in taking Bafana Bafana to the World Cup at the second time of asking, has urged his employers, his unforgiving critics and the press to look at the bigger picture.
Ahead of Saturday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier at home against Burkina Faso, the national team coach, who is under fire following the back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde last month on the road to Russia, which left Bafana bottom of Group D and with the slimmest of chances to make it to the football showpiece, suggested mixed results did not suddenly render him unsuitable for the job.
“Whatever we do in this campaign has got to be stones that we are building on,” Baxter said on Monday. “We have a massive tendency, and Safa, the supporters and the media are included in this, that a successful result means things are going well and a bad result means things are rubbish.
"I think I have mentioned this before that in Germany they were in the middle of a six-year development programme and I was with the England team that went there and thrashed them 5-1 in Berlin. We thrashed them completely.
"The Germans didn’t blink. There was not even massive criticism. There was the criticism of the national pride being hurt, but they continued and won the next World Cup. I don’t think we in South Africa are very good at that, I have to say.”
Baxter said the modus operandi was often very “extreme”.
“We are very happy when we win, no matter how we win. And we are very upset and frustrated when we lose. South Africa is a country of extremes - the people are extremely hospitable and very warm and can be extremely nasty. Some of the crimes are extremely violent, but yet you can’t believe it because the same people will invite you for a cup of tea the day after, ” he said.
“We have to balance that a little bit. There can be fury after Cape Verde because it is such a disappointing result. But you’ve got to look at the bigger picture and say ‘come on, are we moving in the right direction, are we doing the right things, are we giving the kids a chance, trying to create a way of playing that we will understand?’. If we are doing all that, despite all the negativity of the bad results, there is still a little bit of hope. But at the end of the day we need building blocks.”
Asked how he’d handled questions around his ability as Bafana coach after the shock losses to Cape Verde and staring at the possibility of failing to reach the World Cup, like he did in his first spell between 2004 and 2005, Baxter said he’d been scarred but not downbeat.
“I’m too old and too ugly to get worried about what people think of me anymore, honestly,” the coach said. “When nice things were written about me after the Nigeria game it didn’t pump me up, and when you batter me it doesn’t knock me down. Don’t let success go to your head and don’t let failure go to your heart.
"I have had people trying to encourage me and some showing their displeasure. I take that for what it is as part of my job, you know you are never as good as they say you are when you win and never as bad as they say you are when you lose. Some criticism has been warranted and some probably not.”
Next month, after Saturday’s clash with Burkina Faso, who Baxter sees as the best team in Group D so far, Bafana will play Senegal twice - one of the matches being the replay of last November’s 2-1 win that was nullified by world governing body Fifa because it was allegedly fixed.