Stuart Baxter’s SOS to son sure to ruffle feathers
Coach insists goalkeeper-coach is best option available
Stuart Baxter will be “massively disappointed and surprised” if there is a public backlash to him roping in his son, Lee, as goalkeeper-coach for the squad for Bafana Bafana’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya.
Lee – goalkeeper-coach of Kaizer Chiefs, where he instructs Bafana’s No 1, Itumeleng Khune – has come into the squad for the Group E qualifier at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday as a replacement for Andre Arendse.
Baxter said Arendse, not a permanent national goalkeeper-coach, had to withdraw because “he came in two days before we were going to assemble, and his wife’s had an operation with some complications, so he doesn’t feel he can be away from home”.
Baxter’s squad went from injurydepleted on Monday, with the withdrawals of Bongani Zungu and Themba Zwane, to injury-ravaged with Hlompho Kekana pulling out and Lebogang Mothiba almost certainly out pending a scan on arriving from his new Ligue 1 club, Strasbourg.
Baxter’s decision to bring in son Lee is guaranteed to raise eyebrows.
He had requested to have Lee as goalkeeping coach when he was negotiating for the Bafana job in early 2017, but the request was turned down by Safa.
“I have to say that I will be both massively disappointed and surprised if there is any reaction whatsoever,” Baxter said.
“Because Andre pulls out at the last minute, and Lee is the most qualified goalkeeper-coach in the country, bar none.
“Lee has worked with me and in Turkey, and at SuperSport, with the technical team, including Joshua Smith [Bafana’s ex-SuperSport conditioning coach].
“He’s the current coach of ‘Itu’ [Khune], he has worked with ‘Ronza’ [SA and SuperSport keeper Ronwen Williams]. And he knows probably half the squad.
“We don’t have time to go wandering around the country interviewing people and bringing people in.
“So, for the good of the country – and for the good of this squad – then I don’t think [there should be a backlash].”
More important for Baxter is the issue of injuries.
The coach called up Orlando Pirates winger Vincent Pule for Zwane, SuperSport United’s Maphosa Modiba for Zungu and Sundowns’ Tiyani Mabunda for his club teammate and central midfield partner Kekana.
“I didn’t have a good day yesterday [on Sunday],” Baxter said at a Bafana press conference in Durban.
“It started when I got a text from the sporting director of Amiens saying he was watching their game [against St Etienne on Sunday], and Zungu twisted his knee.
“I was watching Sundowns against Cape Town City [Sunday’s MTN8 quarterfinal] and saw Themba Zwane go down with a dislocated toe.
“He came for the camp and the doctor [Thulani Ngwenya] told him that the toe could go again.
“Hlompho Kekana’s got a massive haematoma in his thigh.
“And I’m just waiting now for a medical report from France for Lebo Mothiba, because his club [Strasbourg] – and we haven’t seen the scan yet – say that he’s got a grade 2 hamstring tear.”
Moses Mabhida was the scene of the bottom falling out of SA’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, as they followed up a 2-1 away defeat against Cape Verde with a loss by the same scoreline against the islanders in Durban.
The coach cannot afford a similar scenario against Libya, where a defeat would nullify the coach’s glorious starting moment with Bafana – the 2-0 first Afcon 2019 qualifying win against Nigeria in Uyo in June last year.