Just how much did we learn about the national team under Stuart Baxter's guidance. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - Stuart Baxter, with only two matches in charge since his return to Bafana Bafana for a second spell, already has admirers and, as expected, detractors.

But just how much did we learn about the national team under his guidance during the historic 2-0 win over Nigeria in a qualifying match for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations at the weekend and Tuesday night’s friendly, a 2-1 defeat at home to Zambia?

Here are the five things worth noting:

1 The personal touch

Baxter has put his best foot forward as far as communication since being appointed early last month.

The Scotsman revealed he’d made several phones calls to his Premier League counterparts in an effort to tap into their thinking about players that could do a job for him in his first official game – a massive encounter away to bogey side Nigeria.

These coaches said they had never been contacted by previous Bafana mentors.

Not only did Baxter ring these men up, but he also went as far as speaking to some of the regular national team stars he had omitted from this qualifier, with May Mahlangu and Thulani Serero among them.

2 Game plan

Under Shakes Mashaba’s tenure, reports suggested there was a player mutiny and the cause was a lack of clear instructions from the coach leading up to and during the game. Training sessions open to the public supported that argument to some degree. Baxter’s methods have left the players with very little to do as their roles are clearly defined, at least on the evidence of the Nigeria game, in which the Super Eagles struggled to break down Bafana and had a hard time winning over possession.

In their final training session in Uyo last week, Baxter focused on set pieces and had even hoped to score from one after the players informed him that it was a big concern that was hardly ever addressed.

3 Analysis

A week before picking his squad, Baxter had already collected recordings of a few Bafana matches against Nigeria and other opponents to try and break it down. He’d also sent a Manchester United scout to watch the Super Eagles play friendly games against Corsica and Togo in France and give him feedback before they headed home for their final preparations against South Africa.

By the time his players reported for national team duty, Baxter was already toying with a few combinations to keep Nigeria at bay. His press conferences would often spill over into a discussion about why it is that the Super Eagles are such a powerhouse.

4 Vision

This still remains to be seen. Baxter definitely talks a good game, is eloquent and has said he is prepared to take certain risks so that the end goal is much greater. Going down 2-1 to Zambia on Tuesday would have been a disappointment, but he had given Lorenzo Gordinho and Aubrey Ngoma their national team debuts.

Bafana will also use the bulk of the Under-20 team that recently took part in the youth World Cup in South Korea for next month’s Cosafa Cup, and Baxter is prepared to bear the brunt should things go a bit pear-shaped.

He has at least communicated his intentions.

5 Transparency

With Baxter having arrived with great skepticism given he was his employers’ fourth choice for the Bafana job, it was important that he be frank where necessary.

And so far he has done that with his players and the press. Of course the honeymoon phase dictates that the first couple of months of his five-year contract are likely to be smooth sailing, especially if he is winning.

But the reality is that sometimes a bad patch is inevitable, and that is where his openness will be put to the test.


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The Star

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