POLOKWANE – In the aftermath of having failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year, Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has suggested the low number of South African players in European leagues runs parallel with the latest setback.
“Mamelodi Sundowns won the Champions League, SuperSport United have gone a long way, and Orlando Pirates have gone a long way. But that is because the players are staying here and not going abroad,” said Baxter following his side’s 2-0 defeat against Senegal on Friday night, a result which put paid to Bafana’s World Cup dream.
“It’s not as easy to get out of Sundowns like it was before, or Chiefs or Pirates. I think that is something we have to tackle. We have to say ‘Okay, how do we keep them going? How do we keep them developing?’.
“We didn’t have Premier League players in our team tonight, but we gave them a hell of a game.”
Senegal, in contrast, have all their big-hitters signed to top clubs in Europe and have now qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2002, when they stunned hosts France 1-0 in their opening game.
Bafana fielded only two of their overseas-based stars in the starting line-up on Friday night.
Baxter was, however, seen to be contradicting himself, having told a TV interviewer immediately after the game that other countries with players based abroad were not better than Bafana.
He used Senegal and Nigeria – two sides going to the World Cup next year – as examples.
But the coach changed his tune when discussing the same topic in a post-match press conference that lasted a little under 20 minutes.
“We should look on how to build on this performance instead of saying ‘here we go, one more failure’. In this country, we are great at putting our own people down. We really are,” said Baxter, who has now botched a chance to guide Bafana to the World Cup in two separate spells.
He was at the helm when the national team fell short in their attempts to reach the 2006 tournament in Germany.
Reacting to this unwanted record, the coach also argued that not much had changed in the way the SA Football Association was being run.
He said he’d taken the job believing that, more than a decade on, the structures had improved.
“If we only look at this as another failure and we are all negative about it, then I think we will probably end up in the same boat in four years’ time,” Baxter explained.
“We’ve got to look at reasons, not excuses, and put it right. But we’ve not put anything right.
“I don’t think we have done anything different since I was last here. And in between, I am guessing other coaches (his predecessors) have said the same thing. But I am hearing people asking what I am going to do now. Are you going to walk away?
“I have been 220 days in the job, and I have had probably 40 days on camp with the players. If I hang myself or fall on my sword because we’ve not qualified, I’d be an absolute lunatic.
“We’ve all got to do more before we start asking questions about failure. We have not done anything different, so why would we expect it to be better? We all have to get our heads around that.”
Asked whether he would refresh the team going forward, especially for the rest of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, Baxter indicated that some of the older players he’d picked to bring in experience during this World Cup campaign had probably ran their race.
“I picked Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) tonight, but is he in my plans going forward? Probably not, and there is going to be a few of the older players that you think are going to be phased out over the next few games,” the coach said.
“But wholesale changes, throwing the baby out with the bath water, would be foolish.
“The players that you bring in have got to be brought in at the right time, given the right sort of experience, and that’s my argument when we talk about whether the national team is a place to experiment. I think you’ve got to.”
Bafana face Senegal again on Tuesday in Dakar, but this match will only be an exhibition fixture as the host celebrate having qualified for the World Cup in front of their home crowd.