Stuart Baxter – coach of South Africa

World Soccer: What are your impressions after eight months as South Africa coach?

Stuart BaxterIt has been a constant quest and, while at times it might seem a little futile, I am certainly buoyed by what I am doing. When I came into the job, it was in the knowledge that I needed to create some structures and to create a certain style of football, and that mission has not changed. I am getting some consistency into the squad and the attitude of the players is beginning to change too. We have had to turn the page and make things better because there is a history of acrimony between the players and the Football Association. But instead of trying to apportion blame, we have forgotten about that and are looking forward, and I do believe things have changed for the better. We have seen some progression particularly with our results, and if we can keep the team together and are not dogged by injuries and pull-outs and other nonsense, then I believe we can make real progress.

Have the expectations you had of the job been realised?
Very much so, but I was very much prepared for the complexities of the job. They used the word ‘passion’ to describe the reaction to Bafana Bafana results from the people and journalists, but I don’t think it’s passion, it is rather a set of extremes. It is way over the top this way or way over the top that way. You are either really rubbish or absolutely fantastic. As a coach you have to learn not to take much notice of that.

Despite the defeats by Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are you confident South Africa can still qualify for the 2006 finals in Germany?
I would love to go back to Ghana with the team we have now. We went there last June and were beaten 3-0. I was still getting to know the players and we didn’t have Shaun Bartlett, who was injured. Anyway, the bigger picture is still looking good. We are making progress not only with the team but also in terms of the long-term development of the younger players.

Why are you using so many youngsters in the national side?
Because we don’t have an Under-23, Under-20 or Under-17 team involved in current competition, so we are having to use the national team to blood the youngsters. Some people say we shouldn’t use the national team for experimentation but if young players like Elrio Van Heerden don’t play in the national team, then they don’t play, full stop. We have to use Bafana Bafana as a breeding ground. Remember, too, these young players don’t have the hang-ups about playing at this level that some of the other players do. To get to the profile of a decent World Cup team, we have to give the players international exposure.

*This is an excerpt from an interview with Stuart Baxter. The full interview appeared in the February 2005 issue of World Soccer. To subscribe to the magazine, click here