JOHANNESBURG - Kaizer Chiefs’ coach Stuart Baxter has said the selection of defender Njabulo Ngcobo by the Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos doesn’t mean he’ll get an “automatic passport” into his starting line-up in the early stages of the new season.
A fortnight ago, Ngcobo made a second half cameo for Bafana in their famous 1-0 victory over Ghana in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at home. That cameo sent tongues wagging, considering the fact that he’s been overlooked by Baxter.
“When he’s selected in the national team, that means he’s selected in the national team. I can’t be put in the national team because some of the coaches think that he’s doing well,” Baxter said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
“I’ve got to work with Njabulo and see how he is with our players. I believe he’s a very talented player but I’ve got to judge whether he is ready to go into our team - based on his experience with us. It may be easy for him to go into the national squad.”
Baxter continued: “This is also due to the fact that he is a player that the coach doesn’t know. Whether the national coach selects him - or not - is great for Njabulo and us, but that doesn’t give him an automatic passport into the team here.”
Ngcobo is the reigning Defender of the Season, following his exploits for Swallows FC upon their return to the top-flight last term. He was one of the sought-after defenders during the transfer window but it was Chiefs who landed his signature.
However, since his arrival at Chiefs, he is yet to get his debut, with Baxter preferring the partnership of Daniel Cardoso and Eric Mathoho in the heart of their defence. That selection has come under criticism, especially after some costly errors.
But despite being determined to continue with the veterans, the Brit coach gave Austin Dube – another new centre-back – a full debut against Mamelodi Sundowns last weekend. That bemused Chiefs’ supporters who felt Ngcobo deserved to start, instead.
“Fundamental reason being I haven’t since him before,” Baxter said on Ngcobo's omission. “You talk about last season. I didn’t see him one-minute last season. So the first minute I saw him was when I went through the gates of Naturena.”
Baxter added: “Njabulo was, obviously, going to have make himself known to me. Me to him. Do some work together and see how quickly we were going to get him in. We virtually had no pre-season. So, we had one practice game (in the off-season).”
Baxter conceded that Ngcobo will get his chance when he believes that he’s a fully-fledged Chiefs’ player and understands the system, saying: "We have to bring him to a stable environment where everybody knows their roles. And not just shoot him from the hip."
Chiefs, meanwhile, will be eager to return to winning ways - after the loss to Sundowns - when they host Royal AM at FNB Stadium on Saturday. Royal AM head to this match on the back of their first top-flight win after beating Chippa United 1-0 at home last Sunday.
Since buying their way into the top-flight, Royal AM has struggled to keep up with the high demands as their behind-the-scenes struggles aired. But Baxter says that they’ll be a tough nut to crack, given the emerging confidence among the players.
“We have to concentrate on making our performances better, rather than wondering what we are going to get from our opponents. We are going to do that due diligence on them. And we have to make sure we pay them full respect,” Baxter said.