Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter has addressed some of the frustrations raised by supporters over his selections at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Baxter faced hefty criticism over some of his decisions to select certain players while leaving others, who fans felt would have a greater impact on the game, sidelined.
One in particular was the omission of Orlando Pirates star and PSL Footballer of the Season Thembinkosi Lorch, who eventually scored the all-important goal that knocked hosts and tournament favourites Egypt out of the tournament in the Round of 16.
But it took Baxter all three group games, in which he managed just one win over Namibia, to finally accede to South Africans’ calls for the 25-year-old’s inclusion.
“Football is about opinions. If you put together the 10 best coaches in the world and ask them to pick a ‘World XI’, none of them, probably, will be the same,” defended Baxter.
“Because we’ve all got opinions about the game. If I criticise people for not having the same views as me, then I’m being a communist and I’m an obvious Stalinistic coach.
“I understand that people have those opinions; how those opinions are vented by maybe the media or by social media, they should know that they have an effect on the team.
“With Thembi Lorch, there’s a massive difference playing for your national team and your club team. Even if you’re the best player in your club and you get the Player of the Year Award, there’s a massive difference.
“If you ask Tiger Woods what’s the most difficult thing he’s ever done, he’ll say playing in the Ryder Cup – why? Because he’s representing his country; it’s not just him.
“And I think every top player needs to be introduced carefully into the national team, otherwise you throw them in, you break them and then we go – ‘Ah, no. He couldn’t play,’ and we throw him away. Well, I don’t do that.”
The British tactician, who is set to make a decision on his future with the national team in the coming weeks, further detailed the reason behind Lorch’s eventual introduction and his role in the team going forward.
“Thembi got a role when we played a way that I thought suited him, and he understood it and did well,” he explained.
“In the second game, he didn’t do so well because it was a different game and we substituted him. Now, it was not because he’s a bad player.
“He’ll continue to be an important part, but we have to make sure [he’s protected] – and I’ve got that responsibility, while the people on social media don’t.
“I know theirs is a small angle while mine is a wide angle – it doesn’t mean I think they’re all stupid, it just means that it’s football, and that passion and what we see out there is why we’re in the game.
“The nights like Egypt is why we’re in the game, because it’s emotion; it’s passion; it’s opinion.
“I don’t think people are stupid for not having the same opinion as me, but when I explain my opinion, I expect them to say, ‘Ah, yeah, we agree with you now’ or ‘We get what you’re saying, but we still don’t agree’ – that’s okay."