JOHANNESBURG – Stuart Baxter says he has a “radical” proposal to change the Bafana Bafana status quo.
“At the end of the World Cup campaign I was obviously asked to write a report and to outline what I thought would be some sort of a path forward,” said the national team coach who is still on a mission for a ceasefire with the rest of the country following their failure to reach Russia 2018.
“I must have done the report about four times because I kept on saying ‘no, that’s not right’ because that’s what everybody would say. If I took an average of what you guys (journalists) would say and then we have a middle ground - that’s what I was writing.”
So how do Bafana advance after such a huge set back?
“If I am going to be the right person to lead this, then someone has got to take the responsibility to say what we have done hasn't been right.”
He said he needs a clean slate, and that includes building a new team, which would mean more players such as SuperSport United’s Teboho Mokoena, 20, instead of Siphiwe Tshabalala, 33, of Kaizer Chiefs, for instance.
“I don’t want to insult anyone that has been in the job before me. We've been getting closer and closer to what we shouldn’t be doing,” the coach continued, “Strengthening things that don’t work. We are at a real crossroads now, and I know we have all thought this. But unless we do something radical. We need to make a conscious decision to make a bit of a leap.”
What does that look like?
“I think some players will need to be moved to one side to give young players a chance,” Baxter said. “When we play a friendly international, we are so passionate we want to win every game. If we play Mali, for example, and they send an experimental team, we want to pick our best because no one wants to accept that we don’t win.
We win 1-0, we are really happy, but we have our best team out and no kids have had experience and we are happy for that moment. Then down the years, the best players keep racking up the caps, but the young ones keep getting 15 minutes here and there.”
In some way Baxter’s remarks could be confused as a contradiction. It was him who opted for Clayton Daniels, 33, ahead of a crucial back-to-back World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde and ignored a young promising Motjeka Madisha, who is ten years younger.
The coach said at the time he was looking to qualify for the global showpiece and needed experience not an experimental team. Bafana lost both the away and home leg and with that a World Cup spot.
Why now, after failing to take South Africa to a major tournament, does he suddenly want to blood in young players with the mature ones that still have some years left in them to help Bafana reach the next showpiece in 2022?
“We've got to get to a point where, when we take the young ones in a World Cup qualifier they have experience,” Baxter said. “Let me use Teboho Mokoena as an example. If he doesn’t get some big game experience and we get two years down the road in a World Cup qualifier and we use him, he’s going to be useless.
And then we will all hammer him and say he is not good enough - throw him away and go to the next big talent. We have been doing this for a long time. We have to be radical - think differently.
“We have to tidy up the garden. By that I mean there’s plenty of weeds, not just on the football field, but also at Safa. We need to improve relationships with the players as well. Our marks out of 10 with the players are not very good.”