Ten months into his second tenure as national team boss, Baxter is committed to resolving some of the underlying issues that have hampered Bafana’s progress over the years, some of which includes oppressing young players and adopting a win-at-all-costs approach.
With Bafana set to take part in a four-nations tournament in Zambia, alongside the hosts, Zimbabwe and Angola, later this month, he hopes to use as many young players as possible in preparation for the resumption of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers in September.
The British tactician has since shrugged of the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which was largely down to back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde in the qualifying campaign last year, and outlined the troubles that lead to where the team now finds itself.
“Why do we capitulate against teams like Cape Verde? Is that a problem that Stuart Baxter brought in? Not at all,” Baxter argued at a breakfast meeting with the media in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
“I’ll tell you, psychologically, this is what happens: We prepare for the game and on camp we accept the fact that players are on their cellphones, organising other contracts and are distracted.
“That’s been a sort of, ‘Yeah, it’s grown on us’. The players have become a bit more powerful in that regard. We then go to the game, for which tactically we’re prepared, go 1-0 up and ‘Tyson’ [Thulani Hlatshwayo] falls over going backwards and they get the equaliser, and then we panic.
“But why do we panic? If we don’t have the basics – and I don’t mean talent but I mean mentally, physically, socially, tactically, technically – if we don’t approach that in the right way, when we get to that panic state then we have nothing to fall back on to.
“We don’t stop working but each one does it his own way, and you’re sitting there saying, ‘But what are we doing?’ You’ve been there, you’ve watched the South African performance when you’ve thought, ‘We were so good but we’ve lost it, what’s going on?’
“It becomes hectic, and we don’t do the things that wins us football games. Then people say, ‘Oh, no!’ And we throw that baby out with the bath water, and start all over again and we replicate that process.”
The discarding of coaches has been a common practice for SAFA since the country’s readmission to international football in 1992, with none of the previous 17 Bafana coaches having enjoyed a longer tenure than Clive Barker’s three years between 1994 and 1997.
Baxter, meanwhile, says he does not expect to see out the entire transformation on a “free pass”, but believes it is imperative that the process is started now, with the backing of all stakeholders.
“I think if we approach this is in the right way then we give South Africans a chance, honestly. If Stuart Baxter is there doing that, it may work, it may not,” he continued.
“You guys could say, ‘He’s a great coach because it works,’ and we could then lose it and you might start saying, ‘Get rid of him and bring in Fred Blogs’.
“That’s football, that’s the way my job is, and I don’t cry about it but I get on with it. But whoever is doing it, I believe passionately that we need to empower our younger players.
“But we have to do some gardening, removing the weeds at SAFA House as well, and going forward we have to qualify for AFCON. I’m not asking you to give me a free pass for the next 12 months – not at all.”