Editor's Blog 16.5.2017 11:59 am

Baxter spells out his Bafana mission

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Stuart Baxter sat back in the Bafana hot seat for the first time in well over a decade yesterday at Safa House, discussing his mission for Part Two of his odyssey as head coach of the South African national team.

He spoke of a desire to help in the renaissance of Bafana, emphasising that the main reason he has decided to return, after leaving in rather fractious circumstances in November 2005, is that he sees a commitment to developing the national game in this country from the roots up. Baxter spoke of encouraging conversations with Safa president Danny Jordaan and CEO Dennis Mumble, which were hopefully a small continent more encouraging than the bumbling, incoherent way Safa have handled Baxter’s appointment.

His words should appease fans concerned that Baxter may ignore youth in his return to the Bafana set-up, with talents like Phakamani Mahlambi, Percy Tau and Luther Singh giving cause for cheer on the road ahead. Baxter has signed a five-year contract which runs all the way to the end of Safa’s much-touted “Vision 2022”.

That could well end far earlier of course if Baxter fails to qualify Bafana for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, a difficult prospect, even with four points from their opening two qualifiers under Shakes Mashaba.

But for now, Baxter must simply be given time to do his job – he certainly has more credentials now than he did when he arrived in the country to coach Bafana the first time in 2004. Since 2012, he has amassed an excellent reputation in the Premier Soccer League, winning plenty of trophies with Kaizer Chiefs and a Nedbank Cup only last year with SuperSport United.

Baxter’s Bafana are likely to be more tactically organised and efficient than full of flair – that is certainly the way he has won his loot in South African club football. But that could be just what Bafana need – someone who allows the players to express themselves, but only within the framework of a proper tactical plan.

We have more on Baxter’s press conference on the back page of the Citizen today – because of our tight deadlines, Phakaaathi’s focus this week is back on the title race, and the fight between Tau’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Mahlambi’s Bidvest Wits for the Absa Premiership.

Just two points separate the two sides, with Wits slipping up at Free State Stars last week, but Sundowns failing to properly capitalise, a last-gasp penalty earning Baroka a 2-2 draw. The nerves are bound to play a part again tomorrow, but I think both the Clever Boys and the Brazilians will win, taking us to an epic final day on May 27. Ultimately, even though they are two points behind, I still just give Sundowns the edge, with an easier-looking final-day fixture at Highlands Park, while Wits go to Kaizer Chiefs.

Good luck, meanwhile, to the South African Under-20 side Amajita, who begin their campaign on Sunday at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in South Korea. We speak to central defender Sandile Mthethwa, who gives his reasons on why he turned down a move to Europe in favour of signing a contract with Orlando Pirates.

We also have all the latest on the relegation battle, and we look ahead to this weekend’s Nedbank Cup semfinals, with SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates perhaps the favourites to progress, but Chippa United and Golden Arrows are hoping to spring a surprise.

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