CAIRO (Reuters) - South Africa have impressive plans for the development of soccer in the country but need to be better at putting them into practice, according to national team coach Stuart Baxter.
After seeing his side knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in a 2-1 defeat by Nigeria on Wednesday, the Englishman began addressing the “big question” of the team’s future.
“It’s not only talking about Bafana Bafana as a team, you are taking about individual players, their experiences playing abroad, you are talking about the youth development of the country, you are talking about talent identification, coach education,” he said.
“So we have some very good plans in South Africa but the word implementation needs to be stronger.”
Baxter added: “I think if we can continue the development programme, the Bafana Bafana will gain from that — but it needs supporting. Any strategies we have to develop football needs to be supported by everybody.”
Although Baxter did not mention the South Africa Football Association (SAFA) directly, his remarks appeared aimed at them.
He has never been afraid to hide his irritation with the governing body, telling them last year to “get their house in order” after they dallied over setting up friendly internationals.
South Africa, who won Afcon at the first attempt in 1996 but have not been able to replicate that success, made it out of the group phase for only the second time since the 2002 finals.
They sneaked into the last 16 as the fourth best of the six third-placed teams in the group stage with performances which earned some fierce criticism back home but then stunned hosts Egypt 1-0 before losing to a late Nigeria goal.
Baxter said it had been a “long and difficult” journey since he began a second stint in charge of the side in May 2017.
He began with a shock away win to Nigeria in their opening Afcon qualifier but that was followed by a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign where home-and-away defeats by Cape Verde scuppered their chances of going to Russia.
However, they then went on a 15-match unbeaten run which ended with defeat to Ivory Coast in their opening Afcon match.
“Since we played that game in Nigeria, there has been a massive change in the face of the squad,” said Baxter. “I think we have had 30 debutants during the last two years.”
“It’s been a difficult journey because as a coach, if you make changes, sometimes it’s very popular. You bring in some young players, that’s very popular. But if you lose games, and you don’t do very well, it isn’t.
“We came to here, really, to try and give this team experience of a major tournament they hadn’t had. I’m sure the experience will do the players good, but you have to learn. You have to learn and adjust and be better, so we need to be better.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Sudipto Ganguly