It says something that Stuart Baxter opted to use part of his time this week strengthening his relationship with Premier League clubs rather than preparing his under-strength Bafana Bafana for their African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier against Zambia.
Quite apart from the tribulations the coach has experienced assembling a competitive squad for the first leg of the third round CHAN qualifier in East London for local-based players‚ this is an ongoing process Baxter sees as crucial to his and the national team’s success.
Baxter missed South Africa’s training session on Tuesday to go to Kaizer Chiefs’ headquarters at Naturena.
“I think talking to the clubs is sensible because they have the players who will represent the national team‚” he explained on Wednesday.
“They know more about the players – if that player has got a niggle‚ or an injury‚ personal problems‚ if he’s confident and playing well.
“If I don’t talk to the clubs or a good relationship with the coaches‚ then I won’t get that information that is vital to us before we select a national team.
“I think Safa want to repair the relationship with the clubs‚ and the supporters and the media.
“We’re never going to agree on everything but we want to agree on some things and be on the same page.
“And I think as a coach‚ in the countries where I’ve worked‚ when the national coach has visited and shown an interest in the players and shared some of his ideas‚ I enjoyed that and thought it was positive.
“Every coach who I speak to‚ they agree and say they think that’s part of a national coach’s job – to get around the clubs and share what he wants to do and what he’s looking for in the players.
“So‚ I was never told (by Safa) that I need to do that. But that’s what I see as being part of the job‚ and that’s what I want to do.
“And I think it’s been received well. I was at Chiefs‚ and it was important that I went there because there were a few players who we really need to monitor before going to Cape Verde (for a 2018 World Cup qualifier early next month).
“It was good. I met Kaizer Motaung‚ Bobby Motaung‚ Steve Komphela‚ sat in his office‚ watched some trainings. It’s invaluable.
“So‚ it’s not in the mandate‚ but we’re all agreed at Safa that it’s the way to go.”
Baxter has expressed frustration confronted with picking a team for the Chan over weekends when the PSL’s top eight clubs will be involved in the MTN8 quarterfinals‚ and the rest in their final preparations for the league kickoff on August 18.
The coach said nine meetings – interspersed with a trip to Europe to monitor SA’s overseas-based players – had to be held to come to an arrangement where he had a workable squad‚ and even then some will only be available for the first leg‚ and more replacements called in for the second.
Baxter admitted he believes the Chan should be downgraded to a development project that he is not in charge of.
Initially assistant-coach Thabo Senong was to take charge of the games against Zambia‚ but Baxter has been reinstated on the bench.
“We’ve got to restructure how we think‚ and I think trying to find a strategy that suits SA is what we have to do‚” Baxter said.
“We’ve had to have nine or 10 meetings about squad selection. I was in Europe visiting players‚ and then all the time I was on the phone to Thabo – ‘This player’s pulled out. OK‚ try and bring him in. No‚ we can only have him for a week‚ or no he’s injured’.
“It was just unending.
“I mean this has probably cost more time than preparing for (July’s 2-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying win against) Nigeria‚ and that can’t be right. So we do have to find a slot for this in our total planning.” — TimesLIVE