JOHANNESBURG - Stuart Baxter, the Bafana Bafana coach on the quest to qualifying the national team to next year’s World Cup in Russia, has described the African Nations Championships (CHAN) as an “energy-sapping” event that should be downgraded to a development project.
Baxter meant no disrespect to the organisers CAF, but having had to prepare his side to face Zambia in East London on Saturday in the first leg of a clash that guarantees South Africa a spot in a competition more commonly known as CHAN, while building up to two back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde early next month has left the coach feeling like he should be putting his time to better use elsewhere.
The national team camp has also been dealt many blows with the withdrawal of more than 10 players (and more are expected to return to their clubs before the second leg in Ndola, Zambia, next weekend) due to the start of the 2017/18 domestic season and the fact that these matches are scheduled outside the Fifa calendar.
Baxter has had to go cap in hand pleading with Premier Soccer League clubs, who are not under any obligation to release any of their squad members, for players.
“This should not be a senior event,” said the Scotsman. “I sent an e-mail to the association (his bosses at Safa) with the recommendation that we really need to evaluate where we put our energy now. This event is so time-consuming and energy-sapping that I am not getting the opportunity to do what I think I should be doing.”
Safa had given the impression that Baxter’s assistant, Thabo Senong, would be in charge of the CHAN squad to afford the coach the opportunity to look ahead to the trip to Cape Verde on September 1 and the return match four days later in Durban, but that idea went only as far as the Botswana match in the second leg of the previous round.
“I should be looking at not being a full part of this,” Baxter continued. “I think this can be handed over to the development department. Thabo is development, and so are the players selected because there is just no way we are going to get the guys that played against Nigeria (in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June).
"I need to get away and do some proper work. I don’t feel comfortable putting this much energy into an event that is not going to serve South Africa as well as if I was preparing for Cape Verde.
"I have been asking myself this right through this journey. The amount of time that has been put in by myself, Thabo and everyone else we are doing it because it’s our duty, not because we think it’s well invested.”
Baxter spent nine days in Italy, Sweden and England last month assessing some of South Africa’s overseas contingent and also trying to convince Joel Untersee, a 23-year-old defender who was born in Johannesburg and is currently contracted to Juventus, to consider playing for Bafana instead of his adopted country Switzerland. There was another player in the UK he presented a similar offer, but wouldn’t reveal his name.
“We have had to have nine or 10 meetings about squad selection. I was in Europe visiting a couple of players and all the time I am on the phone with Thabo discussing players that have pulled out. It was just unending. This has cost more time, probably, than preparing for Nigeria,” Baxter explained.
All these players who have been called up over the past several weeks will earn caps as CAF feel the tournament is worthy of being categorised as a senior team appearance.