SA's ticket to Germany

2004-07-28 11:28
To date coach Stuart Baxter has won two matches out of three, thus placing Bafana in a good position to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Many foreign coaches including Arsene Wenger, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sir Bobby Robson speak highly of Baxter's professional approach, his respect for both management and players, and his ability to encourage players to work hard. He also gets the nod from players who have worked closely with him, saying he's got great vision and has a good tactical awareness.

Baxter is one of the 18 coaches from his country ( England ) with a Uefa Pro-Licence, awarded after passing a Uefa Pro-Licence course last year. It is these qualifications, blended with his vast knowledge of international football, which led to Safa appointing him as the man to lead Bafana to the World Cup in Germany.

Baxter's professional approach in dealing with complex issues has so far shown that Safa made the right choice in appointing him as the man to lead the resurgence of South African football. But Bafana's loss to Ghana in Kumasi a couple of weeks ago left some people criticising him, forgetting that we had a couple players pulling out in the last minutes because of injuries while some failed to make the team due to personal problems. Another thing that they failed to take into consideration was the fact that it was the Englishman's first outing to any African country besides South Africa .

"Yes we lost to Ghana and I was massively disappointed by the way we played, but I can only hope that the players have learned something from it. But again I think dwelling too much on the past is not good right now... especially if we're looking at building the team."

However, the criticism that the Englishman got from both the public and media didn't deter Baxter and his boys, instead it inspired them to produce their best performance to date. Bafana beat Burkina Faso 2-0 in front of thousands of South African supporters who still had faith in their team and new coach. This victory placed South Africa on top of Group Two as favourites to qualify to go to Germany come 2006.

Losing against Ghana in Kumasi was a disappointment for Bafana coach Baxter and his boys, but he surely did a good job in boosting their confidence for their next encounter against Burkina Faso and deserves a round of applause for this. "I think the loss against Ghana was a wake-up call for the boys and it changed their attitudes, which is why I think they performed well against Burkina Faso. I was quite pleased with the way they responded on the day."

"The boys were under immense pressure, but they did extremely well to win the game and they deserve a tap on their backs for putting up such a wonderful performance," says Baxter.

Baxter has a plan for Bafana Bafana. His short-term goal is to help them to qualify for the next World Cup, while he's long-term objective is to revitalise South African soccer and take it to a higher level. He'll not bow to any pressure from anyone in achieving his goals.

"Pressure is only negative if you allow it to be. It's what you get yourself into. I accepted the job to coach the South African national team and I'm prepared for the demands of the job, but I will need a lot of co-operation from everyone."

Baxter also says that there's been nothing wrong with foreign coaches coming to the country to coach the national team, however they were just unlucky to come at the time when South African football had administration problems and this led to players losing interest in the national team. He also dismisses the fact that Carlos Queiroz lost his job because he didn't understand the culture of South African football and says that any professional coach can deal with players who come from different cultural backgrounds.

"Carlos Queiroz didn't fail as Bafana coach, but it was the problems within our football system that led to him performing fairly bad for the country. He's a very good coach and he was just unlucky to loose his job as national coach of Bafana."

Baxter is working tirelessly to make sure that he gets all overseas-based players to come play for the national team and, with the exception of a few players, he's done a good job in that regard. Since his arrival we've seen players like Benni McCarthy, Shaun Bartlett, Bradley Carnell and Macbeth Sibaya and many more coming back to the national setup. Hopefully we'll see more issues being resolved in the few months to come.

Besides being a soccer coach, Baxter enjoys spending time with his family. He's married to Cecilia, and their marriage is blessed with four children, Lee 27, Kelly (24), Natalie (13) and Sean (8).

Profile

Full Name: Stuart William Baxter
Born: 16 August 1953
Birthplace: Birmingham , England

Playing Career

Position: Central defender
Teams played for: Preston North End (1971-75, England ), Dundee (1975-76, Scotland ), Stockport County (1976-77, England), Helsingborgs, Lands Krona, Orebro SK (Sweden)

Coaching Career

During the 1980s he started coaching at Orebro SK (Sweden), IF Skarp (Norway), Vitoria Setubal (Portugal). Later he returned to Sweden and coached Halmstad BK from 1989-1991 and later Djurgardens IF. After that he moved to Japan to take up a coaching post at Sanfrecce Hiroshima for a season and moved to Vissel Kobe 1995-1997.

On his return to Sweden in 1997, he coached AIK Stockholm to a championship victory and won qualification to the Champions League. Baxter has also worked in England, Japan, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. In Britain, he had spells with Preston North End, Stockport County and Dundee.

He also won the league and cup double with AIK Solna in Sweden. At the beginning of the 2001 season, he joined SFK Lyn in Norway and a year later he went to England and joined the FA taking over the England under-19 side.

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