Sport

Baxter takes responsibility of Bafana flaws: 'I’ll walk if you want'

2019-02-09 13:13

In one of his most frank interviews to date, beleaguered Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter opened up as he reflected on a qualifying campaign that had promised so much, but the team now faces a win or bust scenario.

In the build-up to the crucial Afcon qualifier against Libya next month, Baxter did not mince his words, including telling Safa to fire him if Bafana fails to reach the continental tournament in Egypt in June.

Bafana kick-started their 2019 Afcon campaign with a 2-0 win over Nigeria, but followed up with a cocktail of results thereafter.

South Africa were then held to a goal-less draw by Libya in Durban in September; hammered the Seychelles 6-0 at FNB Stadium in October only for Baxter’s charges to yield a goal-less draw in the return leg against the islanders a few days later.

Bafana were held to a 1-1 draw against Nigeria in November, who needed this result to qualify for the continental competition, while Libya’s 8-1 demolition of the Seychelles meant South Africa needed a point in the last game to reach Egypt.

Daniel Mothowagae was among a selected media who had the conversation with the coach over breakfast at Safa House on Thursday:

Where did all go wrong for Baxter and his team?

How can we dominate Nigeria and how can we then not dominate Libya at home and Seychelles away? We had a mental problem.

We smashed Seychelles at home but I cannot be pleased with the away game because it’s a throwback to 100 games South Africa have played where so-called inferior opposition is not blown away.

If you look at all the other games, I’m satisfied because tactically we did okay.

But If I am gonna draw a conclusion to why we are where we are now, it’s because we haven’t shown the consistency as a team and that’s my responsibility because I’m the one selecting that team.

I haven’t been able to bring out the consistent understanding of what is needed; which level we need to be on mentally; do we need to be hyper-aggressive today or do we need to be really relaxed and chilled?

And in all those things I ask myself ‘did you do your job properly there?’ if I look back I would say may be I asked too much of the players tactically in one or two games.

The game versus Libya at Moses Mabhida Stadium

I think we sat down with the plan – first half it didn’t work. We had a three-man midfield [Vincent Pule, Keagan Dolly and Sibusiso Vilakazi] that was sitting on the toes of their back-four but we didn’t get bodies in the box.

We changed in the second half but then the knife was on the throat. We needed to get a goal; it’s a home game. No composure in the box… I though they didn’t understand the tactical game plan I gave them. They were on the back foot and then became anxious.

And then it becomes this old problem that we have - and we need to address it. And I wonder: should I be accelerating this process of renewing the team or should I slow it down?

The game versus Nigeria in November

That was a game plan based on cutting down space for Nigeria and based on opening spaces for our quicker players.

And once we got our nose in front against Nigeria I thought you saw the best of the South African mentality – the bordering on the arrogance, that’s what I’d say because they embellished a little bit with a touch here and there.

And certainly they found each other with their movements. And when they are anxious - if they are losing; and I think this is what happens when they play against the lesser countries. They become anxious because they become very conscious of not dominating the way they should. And they make mistakes and increase the anxiety.

If you look at all the other games, I’m satisfied because tactically we did okay.

Should I back off and let the players have their head and go and play? No.

I think you cannot do that at national level especially if you’re trying to build something.

I find it difficult because one eye is on now and one eye is on vision blah blah blah… [Vision 2022].

I said to the press the other day when they asked ‘can you rejuvenate the squad?’ I said ‘if I do and we lose, I’ll accept that but will you accept that? [Losing] is part of the process.

I’m not scared to lose because I'm scared of being in the same position in four year’s time.

If I have this one eye on now thinking ‘Baxter you need to win this game now or otherwise you are out’. And at the same time if you're gonna do the job correctly for the country, then you gonna be looking in the future.

Otherwise in two years, they do that, you go and they are in the same position they were before you came in. I didn’t want that.

We’ll get the result that we want against Libya

My headache will always be selection. I’ll get the most efficient and the fittest team.

I want us to make sure we have a simple game plan based on working hard. We are undefeated in the group. There is a basis to say, on a normal day, we’ll get the result that we want.

Attack is the best form of defence. We’ve got options. Certainly we’ll have plan A and B. All those preparations will be made.

I don’t want to advertise my intentions. I want them [Libya] to wonder.

If we don’t qualify, certainly I’ll walk

We are a good team, but we have to close that gap. The gap between Nigeria and Seychelles [in terms of performances].

Is that about the coach, the mentality of the players or a social thing that we have to try and combat?

If we don’t solve it – we may always be the ones that almost did it.

If we don’t qualify, certainly I will tell the FA that you better make sure that you really want me to carry on because I’ll walk if you want.

And all this nonsense about it will cost them [Safa] a fortune to get rid of me… it will not cost them a bloody fortune. It will never cost anybody a fortune.

‘Also‚ if I can’t do the job here‚ if I think that we are not moving forward in the pace we want because of certain things and I just can’t do it‚ I will also walk… even if they want me to stay.

When we didn’t qualify for the world cup, I held myself hugely responsible. I don’t make excuses and blame the players. That’s how I am. In my heart it hurt me deeply.

The whole world cup campaign was difficult mentally for our players because of the nonsense that was going on with the Senegal game.

Right up until the last game, we were hearing in the corridors. It was still going to be overturned.

It was hugely difficult for our players. I’d like without making an excuse for them, I’d like people to see that world campaign for what it was. And let’s be fair, Senegal are a good team.

[Editor’s note: Fifa ordered a replay between Bafana and Senegal after Ghanain referee Joseph Lamptey was found to “unlawfully influencing match result” of the Novemebr 2016 game that South Africa won 2-1 in Polokwane when Shakes Mashaba was still the coach.]

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February 17 2019