Many of the current generation of Bafana players are scattered across Europe’s developing leagues, with the most competitive of those currently being France’s Ligue 1.
Gone are the days when South Africa boasted a pool of players to choose from in top leagues such as the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A – the likes of Lucas Radebe, Bradley Carnell, Aaron Mokoena, Delron Buckley, Benni McCarthy, Siyabonga Nomvete and Steven Pienaar.
Currently, many players even seem content with remaining in the Premier Soccer League, playing for the ‘Big Three’ – Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns - with little ambition of going to test their qualities and characters abroad, amongst the elite.
Baxter, though acknowledging the immense improvement of the PSL over the years, desperately hopes to change this by providing opportunities and caps for up and coming youngsters to use the international stage as a platform to catch the attention of European clubs.
“The PSL has improved so much since I was the coach the first time [in 2004/05], and I think it’s improving all the time,” said Baxter.
“But at the same time, our players, when they land in the PSL now, are happier than when they did before; because before they landed in the PSL and they still saw that next move.
“Now, if a player lands in the PSL, sometimes they’re satisfied – ‘that’s okay, I can help my mom, I’ve got my car…’ and that’s human.
“I think we need to make a concerted effort, which is one of the reasons I’m trying to sell international football to the clubs, because we [Bafana] can be that next step for them.
“They can go [overseas]. If they’re good Bafana players, they can.”
Baxter also feels players already playing in Europe often lack the drive to represent the national team, as has recently been the case with Tokelo Rantie and Thulani Serero, but stresses that Bafana could even pave the way for moves to bigger teams in higher rated leagues.
“Let’s take Keagan Dolly, for example … If I was giving Keagan advice, I would say, ‘You’re in and out of the team at Montpellier, that won’t get you to Barcelona. But you come and play in the AFCON finals for Bafana and score three goals, and I’ll tell you, you’ll go on [to make that move]. So, do you have the drive to do that?’
“I think we’ve all got to get on board here now, because I don’t want to be a part of pretending – I’ll pretend we’re going in the right direction, but not really believe it. SAFA will pretend they’re supporting everything, but not really.
“You guys [media] will do the same as you’ve done before and we’ll perpetuate this cycle; clubs won’t cooperate and will hold back players; we’ll accuse them of not being patriotic. And we’ll just keep on this cycle.”