South Africa, Sport

The Paper Round: Safa’s lessons in how not to appoint a coach

The Paper Round: Safa’s lessons in how not to appoint a coach

The announcement of Stuart Baxter’s appointment as the new coach of Bafana Bafana nearly got lost among the #DAZuma news last week. Consensus among the media seems to be split. And if you believe social media, the team is going to Hell in a handcart. But the issue is not so much with the man appointed, but how we got here. ANTOINETTE MULLER rounds up the South African media’s views.

It took more than 130 days for the South African Football Association (Safa) to fire Shakes Mashaba and finally announce their new coach. All of this just weeks before the national team is due to play Nigeria in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Sounds like a story we’ve heard before, doesn’t it? Perhaps Stuart Baxter, the newly appointed coach, wants to give Allister Coetzee a call because failing to plan seems to be at the top of the priority list of some of South Africa’s sports teams.

Equally curious is that Baxter will remain with SuperSport United until the end of the season and the man himself admitted to KickOff that this will be a challenge.

“It’s not easy looking to the future seeing important games coming up with SuperSport and the national team to try and split yourself to do both; it’s not easy.

“But it is a challenge I thought hard about, and it is a challenge I want to take on,” Baxter said.

But hey – at least Safa managed to hide the announcement between the news of Jacob Zuma being ordered to provide reasons for his Cabinet reshuffle. Everyone was so preoccupied with the court ruling that there wasn’t all that much immediate outrage.

But now that everyone has had time to dissect and digest it, opinion seems to be split.

First, we’re back here again – with a foreign coach. Heck, even the applicants’ pool and shortlist was filled to the brim with foreigners. Not that there is anything wrong with having a foreign coach, but it is critical that the foreigner has some sort of international experience – especially on the continent.

Baxter, a Scot, might have a decent domestic CV, but as S’Busiso Mseleku points out in the City Press, he doesn’t tick (Safa’s) criteria box of international experience.

Mseleku believes Baxter is a good choice, but, he writes: “Having fired Shakes Mashaba in December, Safa should have acted immediately – at least by January. This would have given the next person ample time to study the situation and lay the groundwork for the two tough tasks ahead – Bafana Bafana’s qualification for next year’s Fifa World Cup in Russia and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.”

Baxter had a very brief international stint with the national side before, but like most eras in South African football, it is best forgotten.

Lungani Zama, writing in the Sunday Independent, reckons the bloke deserves a good ol’ second chance.

Long live the second chance and those who have the common sense to appreciate its enduring purpose,” Zama says.

But not everyone is taken by the idea of a foreign coach. Also in the City Press, Letepe Maisela points out that a foreign coach has not won “anything of significance with Bafana on the international soccer scene” and that the debate on local vs foreign coaches is a discussion that goes back to domestic level., meanwhile, has a whole bunch of interviews with players turned pundits, coaches and everyone in between. Over on those pages, the general consensus seems to be that the man deserves a chance.

Over on Soccer Laduma, Joe Crann mulls over seeming contradictions in Baxter’s application, especially when it comes to preaching development and then seemingly having little faith in young players.

One thing is for sure, though: nowhere in the world, with no team in the world will a coach ever enjoy the support of everyone when they walk into a job. The only way to make people happy is to win – but even if that happens there will be complaints that the team isn’t playing the “right brand” of this and that.

Sport is a fickle beast and you have to have a touch of madness to take on a gig.

The issue with Baxter’s appointment is, perhaps, not so much with who is in charge, but how he was appointed. After setting out a whole list of criteria themselves, Safa failed to fulfil their own criteria. The decision took far too long and now they have a man in charge who has to juggle two jobs. We know that they want the national team to do well – they need them to because soccer is struggling for relevance in the country – but seem to have no real plan of action as to how they are going to get there. Have they not learnt anything from their rugby compatriots?

Perhaps, then, nobody summed it up better than Matshelane Mamabolo, who quipped: “Safa are the kind who want to drive around in a Maserati but want to pay a Mazda price.”

As the kids say, mic drop. DM

Photo: Stuart Baxter, coach of Supersport United during the Absa Premiership 2016/17 match between Supersport United and Bloemfontein Celtic at the Lucas Moripe Stadium, South Africa on 03 May 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix


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