JOHANNESBURG - NOT long ago, Gavin Hunt opened up about missing out on the opportunity to coach his country, the job going to Scotsman Stuart Baxter following the sudden sacking of another South African in Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba.
Even though their ambitions for last season would have been wrecked, Wits had made it clear that nobody at the club would have stood in Hunt’s way if he found the then vacant Bafana post so tempting that he would quit while on the verge of winning his fourth PSL title.
The championship was already in the bag by then, Wits were just a win or two away from officially confirming it, but replacing Mashaba would have definitely thrown a spanner in the works, much like it did for SuperSport United when Baxter was first linked to the job at a time when Matsatsantsa were enjoying an impressive unbeaten run in the league.
Fast forward to 2 December.
Baxter got the plush gig seven months earlier, started off with a bang by beating Nigeria (for the first time in a competitive match) in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, but came crashing down when Bafana failed to book their ticket for next year’s World Cup in Russia. On the date mentioned above, Hunt completed a full house of domestic trophies by guiding Wits to Telkom Knockout Cup after narrowly beating Bloemfontein Celtic in KwaMashu. But I doubt there were any regrets at Safa house over not having appointed Hunt instead of Baxter.
A bit harsh, I know.
Truth is, Huntie will have to go big in any of the upcoming continental tournaments to get the recognition he deserves because history shows it’s not easy for a South African to land this job. Pitso Mosimane had to be Carlos Alberto Parreira’s understudy for four years before he was deemed ready.
Gordon Igesund was Mr "quick fix" and that ended in tears and controversy. And Bra Shakes well, he was considered a cheap option compared to other candidates who were vying for the job at the time. That also ended in tears and an out of court settlement.
It’s no secret that Baxter was not Safa’s first choice, but being a former Bafana coach and also coming at a slightly inexpensive rate compared to Hugo Broos, Herve Renard and Carlos Queiroz worked in his favour.
Heck, Safa violated it’s own criteria in hiring Baxter, who did not have the required background of having coached an African country and led them to the World Cup or even close to home - the Africa Cup of Nations.
Hunt has no doubt earned the chance to coach South Africa, having won all there is to win in the PSL. The only other man to do so is Mosimane, and he, too, has unfinished business with the national team.
With the downward spiral Bafana have experienced over the years since winning the 1996 Afcon under Clive Barker, a shrine of achievements in the PSL appears to no longer be sufficient. But this is not to say Hunt should not remain hopeful.
Wits go into the Caf Champions League next year and therein lies the benchmark - a chance to prove those at Safa house who weren’t in Hunt’s corner wrong.