Johannesburg - In a wide-ranging interview this week, Bafana Bafana head coach Stuart Baxter came out like a frustrated man. It was clear there was a lot on his mind that he wanted to lay bare, but he restrained himself.
Baxter could not contain his frustration at the slow pace of proceedings at the SA Football Association (Safa).
“We must find the desire to be organised better. We cannot accept things as they are. We have to move quickly because we have been going slowly when the rest of the world is going quickly.
“The desire and understanding is there, but we need to implement things, and get on the bus. We can’t deny all is not well.
“I’m not trying to rubbish Safa‚ my own association,” said Baxter.
The coach was left frustrated by the late call to cancel the trip to a four nations tournament in Thailand, which he had hoped to use to give youngsters a chance.
Failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia is water under the bridge now and Baxter wants to atone by finishing top in the qualifying campaign for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
“If I don’t qualify for the tournament, there will be no need to fire me – I will get out quickly and the association will have to get someone who can do the job. If I can’t give the country a major tournament, then I don’t belong here.”
He said his main aim was to give South Africa a major tournament because he had seen what it meant to the nation.
“I saw what the 2010 World Cup meant to South Africans. It was not just about hosting, but about participating in a major tournament, and this is what I want to give to the supporters.”
Despite Safa saying Thulani Serero would no longer be selected to play for Bafana, Baxter said the door was not closed on the enfant terribles Serero and Tokelo Rantie.
Last year, the Vitesse midfielder said he would rather stay at home than warm the Bafana bench, while Rantie said he was not available for selection.
Baxter, however, said the duo would have to show their commitment to the country to be selected in future.
“I would like every South African to want to play for the country. Every player who wants to represent the country is welcome, but if someone says ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘I will only come if this happens’ ... if that’s the attitude, that’s ok, it’s his choice,” said Baxter.
“I don’t want to speak about individual players, but the culture around Bafana must change because, for a long time, things have been the same. National call-ups have not been seen as the honour that it is, but as a reward. It should be an honour to represent your country without expecting any compensation. Reward has to be almost as important as putting on the shirt.
“The important part for players is to be thrilled and inspired to be here.”
Baxter has latched on to the phrase of the moment – radical transformation – and said this was needed in our football. He said there was a need to introduce young players to the team.
“The entire system has not been working. It’s time we take a more radical approach when it comes to introducing younger players to the national team,” said the coach.
“I’m ready to risk everything for the sake of this transformation. There are experienced players who I think are good, but they will have to become casualties if we are to introduce younger players to the fold.
“But, in doing so, I may lose games and, if that’s the case, I’m willing to take full responsibility for that. However, I can’t pretend that all is alright when I don’t believe it is. I have to be the one who takes this step. Whether I’m the coach or whoever else is the coach, this is a step that must be taken.”
After confirming that rightback Joel Untersee had agreed to don the Bafana jersey, Baxter revealed the Italy-based defender was not the only one he was looking at.
He said there were few other players he wanted to convince, but warned them not to expect free entry into the team.
“They must make concerted efforts to integrate and be part of the team. They mustn’t think they are coming to be the stars of the show; they have to work hard and convince us they are the real deal.”
Baxter said Bafana missed out on Panagiotis Retsos, who decided to play for Greece, but said there was one player at Preston North End in the UK that he wanted to look at.
Untersee, who was born in Benoni, is currently on loan from Serie A giants Juventus to Serie B outfit Empoli.
The coach confessed that taking the Bafana job at such short notice could have backfired on him.
“It was like when I first came here in 2004 and I didn’t have the time to prepare. I almost got myself in the same situation when I accepted the job last year.
“When I first came, I didn’t understand the country very well and had no time to prepare. When I decided to come back to Chiefs, I said to myself: ‘I did not show the true picture of who I wanted to be.’ I wanted badly to prove myself.
“I was a bit stupid because, with short notice, I had to do Bafana and go back to SuperSport. In a normal world, it was like a suicide attempt. If I had lost to Nigeria, people were going to say I still had my SuperSport hat on. And if I went on to lose the Nedbank Cup, they were going to say I didn’t care about SuperSport. I was lucky I won those two games.