Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter will always be put in the spotlight when he selects his team, particularly when it comes to his former players at SuperSport United and Kaizer Chiefs.
He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t select them.
Normally, Baxter would not respond to reports about his decisions, but this week he felt the need to explain the logic behind having seven United players in his team.
Baxter stood by his decision, weathering criticism and saying he believed he had made the right call.
Baxter has seven guys – six players and a goalkeeper coach – from United in his team. He said this was not an emotional decision based on his previous ties with the club.
Some have labelled Bafana a “mini SuperSport” and accused Baxter of having a soft spot for his former side.
Baxter was accused of turning United into a “mini Kaizer Chiefs” after his former Amakhosi players – Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Reyaad Pieterse, Morgan Gould, Keegan Ritchie, Tefu Mashamaite and Mandla Masango – joined the Tshwane side two seasons ago.
South Africans took to social media this week to voice their displeasure at the composition of the national team, accusing the Englishman of favouritism.
Matsatsantsa a Pitori have the most personnel of any club in the national team, including two goalkeepers, two central defenders, one midfielder and one striker. And they also have a goalkeeper coach on the bench in the form of André Arendse.
Initially, Baxter had only called up four United players – Ronwen Williams, Morgan Gould, Dean Furman and Bradley Grobler. But he was forced to replace three players who withdrew due to injuries and, as a result, he called up goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse and defender Clayton Daniels. He also had former Bafana goalkeeper Arendse in his technical team.
Baxter said he was forced into the situation he found himself in and that he had had to act quickly.
“I don’t make those decisions based on emotions, but because of people I trust. People will know I make those decisions based on facts and not fiction,” said Baxter ahead of Friday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde in Praia.
“When difficulties arise within short notice when players pull out because of injuries, you go for people you know and they know what you are looking for.”
He said he had to call up Arendse after Alex Heredia had to travel to Philadelphia on short notice.
“He [Arendse] is the one we pulled because he is local and close to the camp. He knows what I want and, when you have Reyaad and Ronwen, they are also comfortable with him. It’s not just a selection with high strings ... that’s logic there.”
He said he had not and would not work on the basis of favours.
“I’d never do that or pick players because of previous relationships.
“Again, we had a situation with Rivaldo, who withdrew on short notice, and I had to bring in Clayton as he knows what I want. I knew when it comes to set pieces I don’t have to do a lot of work because of his understanding with Morgan. If they have to go in, we know they can do the job. This time, we are not talking about development, but here and now.”
He insisted that the situation of having six players from one team would not be repeated unless there was another crisis.