Johannesburg - SuperSport United coach Stuart Baxter has stopped short of admitting that his uncertain future at the club has affected his players’ morale.
Since Baxter was linked with a move to Bafana Bafana, United have suffered back-to-back league defeats to Baroka FC and Mamelodi Sundowns.
In August, United lost only once in the league, but they have since lost three matches.
After their humiliating 5-0 defeat to Sundowns on Thursday, the Englishman was at a loss for words and hinted it could have something to do with his imminent move back to Bafana.
“It is difficult to quantify the speculation on the Bafana issue. I have tried to stay unaffected as much as possible.
"I cannot get into the players’ heads, so I do not know what is going on and whether they are anxious, or if some of them are happy to hear the news.
"But the atmosphere in the dressing room has been somehow downbeat and numb, and not upbeat like it usually is,” said a dejected Baxter.
He said there had been no update on his proposed move to the national team.
Last month, United said they had granted the SA Football Association (Safa) permission to speak to Baxter.
Safa has, once again, failed to meet its deadline to announce Shakes Mashaba’s successor.
Baxter has challenged his players to dust themselves off and bounce back against the same Sundowns team on Wednesday.
The two Tshwane sides meet in their second league fixture, and Baxter said the onus was on the players to show character.
“It is up to the players. Undoubtedly, I want to see the response from the players – they must sell their lives dearly, not as cheaply as they did here.
“There is anxiety hanging over [their heads] and I am looking at things such as character, discipline and believing in yourself.
"I am also looking at myself long and hard, and I hope the players do that too. I do not think they did themselves justice here.”
He said it was difficult to talk about the team’s title aspirations after such a defeat.
“We should rather talk about how we pick ourselves up in the next game. A team that loses 5-0 cannot talk about title aspirations, but about getting back. There are lots of question marks, and some soul-searching needs to be done.”
United play Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers in the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is at 18:00.
The teams drew one-all in Monrovia last weekend and the winner will progress to the group stages of the tournament.
Baxter will get a chance to avenge the Brazilians’ defeat on Wednesday before taking on his former club Kaizer Chiefs in the quarterfinals of the Nedbank Cup on Saturday.