JOHANNESBURG – Wearing the cap of patriotism, Owen Da Gama believes Bafana Bafana will prosper and reach their potential once they are guided by a local coach who understands South African football.
Under the guidance of the British-born tactician Stuart Baxter, the South African senior men’s national team recently endured a roller-coaster campaign in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Baxter coached team produced underwhelming performance in the group stage - losing two matches (to Ivory Coast and Morocco), while narrowly beating Namibia.
However, luck was on their side as they finished among the best four third place finishers to book a Last 16 encounter against hosts Egypt. In that match Baxter’s team outsmarted the Pharaohs before they crashed out in the quarter-finals to Nigeria.
But to a discerning supporter that performance at a major tournament was not enough to buy Baxter more time at the helm.
Unapologetic about his tactics, Baxter also somewhat showed Safa the middle finger, saying he’s “not a desperate coach and wouldn’t beg for his job”.
“Definitely (we need another coach going forward),” Da Gama firmly stated.
“If we look at the best countries in the world, where’s the longevity (on our side)? Brazil, Germany and France have never taken foreign coaches. That internal intellectuality remains there and they build on that. Whereas us, you can’t play a different style of football.
How did the Under-23s qualify for the Olympics after 16 games, and you’ve got to play Senegal away and beat them, how? It’s because we used SA talent, our speed, smallness, explosiveness and hammered them.”
Having overlooked the PSL Footballer of the Season Thembinkosi Lorch in the group stage, Baxter was begged to play the Orlando Pirates’ talisman in the Last 16 and finally succumbed. Against the Egyptians, Lorch grabbed the opportunity to play by the scruff of the neck, scoring Bafana’s solitary goal that eliminated the hosts.
However, in the quarter-finals, Baxter sacrificed Lorch early in the second half and that peeved Da Gama.
“South African football is about the intellectual propriety and understanding of who we are,” Da Gama said. “I wish Bafana can have the same approach, use our speed and explosiveness to play our brand of football and not another brand.
We’ve got a great coach in Stuart Baxter but I still believe Lorch could have been the saviour going forward. You (the media) guys fought that Lorch must play and we know that. And now he must play 58 minutes, take him out and we lose? Lorch always scores in the last 20 minutes.”
Baxter is set to decide his own fate when he returns from a mini-holiday in Sweden. He will also likely reflect on previous misfortunes, which include failing to inspire Bafana to the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia thanks to losing back-to-back qualifiers against minnows Cape Verde Islands.
Add to that, the fact that in his first tenure he was sacked for having failed to qualify for the 2006 global showpiece. By the time Baxter returns to SA to decide his future, Da Gama, the current incumbent at Highlands Park and former Bafana caretaker coach, believes that he should have long been replaced an astute local coach.
“Maybe in two (editions of) Bafana from now, I’ll coach Bafana again,” he said. “But (for now) there’s Gavin Hunt who has proven himself, and maybe Pitso (Mosimane) and Steve Komphela can come back.”