Stuart Baxter. Picture: SUPPLIED
Stuart Baxter. Picture: SUPPLIED

In Nigeria‚ in a tiny room at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium ahead of Bafana Bafana’s June Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo‚ Stuart Baxter played the local media like a concert violinist.

The Bafana coach had the Nigerian media soaking up his witticisms and common sense in such a confident and accomplished display that any doubts about his appointment were almost put aside.

The next day, SA beat Nigeria 2-0 for Bafana’s first competitive victory over the Super Eagles.

It was a bombshell.

Bafana have a habit of starting well under new coaches. Still‚ Baxter had been very impressive – on the field‚ alongside it‚ off it.

Fast forward just three months and Baxter has dropped a b*****k to such an extent — with two defeats against Cape Verde‚ two sets of starting line-ups that were so dubious and two such poor performances — that the question can even be asked: is Baxter still the right man to coach Bafana Bafana?

At one level, the answer is no. And it has nothing to do with his ability purely as a coach.

Public sentiment has turned so far‚ so quickly against Baxter – never a popular appointment in the first place – that it is hard to see him recovering from two defeats that will surely cost Bafana a place at the 2018 World Cup finals.

Baxter seems to have the unenviable knack of walking into a minefield and stepping on all the landmines.

From his appointment – controversial due to what was perceived as the dictatorial manner in which it was handled by South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan – and that Nigeria win‚ the slide has been quick.

Leaked stories reflected there were many within Safa who were against the appointment. They contributed to the messiness of the noise surrounding Baxter.

The coach found himself defending accusations that he had asked that his son‚ Lee‚ be appointed his Bafana goalkeeper coach – and he did not defend the claims all that convincingly.

Baxter’s fussiness was emerging as an attribute that‚ much like predecessor Shakes Mashaba’s stubbornness‚ might be his downfall.

Faced with the inevitable withdrawals of players, which every Bafana coach must deal with, Baxter created a negative energy around the Cosafa Cup and the Chan.

At the same time‚ the coach was doing a lot of things right.

He was meeting PSL clubs and talking to their coaches.

But, he seemed selective in who he was asking advice from‚ strengthening strong ties that already existed‚ but perhaps not mending some weaker ones.

The semi-appointment of Quinton Fortune – who had turned his back on Bafana as a player so many times – as assistant coach turned up the negative volume.

Then‚ Cape Verde. Where Baxter had appeared to do his research to the smallest detail against Nigeria‚ he appeared to slack off against the islanders.

So‚ the question is: is Stuart Baxter the right man to coach Bafana Bafana?

The answer: right now it’s not looking good.


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