The arduous search for a suitable coach to lead Bafana Bafana in their quest to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has taken authorities around the world. And what they’ve learnt, to borrow from The Wizard of Oz, is that there’s no place like home.
After months of speculation as the names of top coaching candidates were bandied about, the South African Football Association (Safa) has settled on two men with extensive knowledge of the African game, both at club and national level.
The hottest seat in South African football became vacant when Ephraim Shakes Mashaba was sacked following his petulant rant at his employers at the end of a brilliant 2-1 victory over Senegal in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Polokwane.
It has now emerged that former Orlando Pirates coach Ruud Krol and SuperSport United coach Stuart Baxter are the two main contenders in Safa’s sights. This was after the organisation had initially flirted with Iran-locked Carlos Queiroz, then endured the prima donna demands of Morocco gaffer Hervé Renard, and also ran the gauntlet of greedy agents with Cameroon coach Hugo Broos.
After failing to secure a candidate and with Bafana due to line up against Guinea-Bissau and Angola in friendly matches, Safa has redoubled its efforts.
Krol admitted that he has been approached by a senior Safa official, who inquired if he was interested in the job.
“I was on holiday in Italy,” revealed Krol. “I informed him I was certainly interested and we left it at that. He said he would call me back to finalise mundane issues like the terms of a contract and working conditions.”
A source in Safa said: “Safa stated openly when they advertised the post that the criteria required for a successful Bafana coach would be an intimate and extensive knowledge of the African game.
“The criteria point out that the successful candidate must have an excellent understanding of the South African playing philosophy, or playing style, as some people like to describe our approach to the game.”
The football body also wanted a candidate with international coaching experience, plus a good track record allied to a vision and passion for football development and player management, to align with its 2022 vision, the source added.
Although Baxter is also being weighed up for the job, SuperSport United’s chairperson, Khulu Sibiya, and chief executive Stanley Matthews have stated that they harboured ambitions to win the premiership and had no intentions of releasing the Scot. Despite this rebuff, Safa has not given up their pursuit of the former Bafana and England under-19 coach.
With a record of 10 wins from his 23 matches in charge of Bafana, Baxter has been silent on his ambitions for a second tilt at the national job.
Krol had fewer reservations: “There is a lot that I can bring to the table … If we can work very hard together, we can achieve success. There are no shortcuts in attaining success in football. Hard work, discipline and more hard work bring success.”
A hard, uncompromising defender during his playing days at Ajax Amsterdam and for the Dutch national team while they were entrenched in the “total football” philosophy espoused by Johan Cruyff, Krol captained his country at the 1978 World Cup.
Several Safa members, including president Danny Jordaan and chief executive Dennis Mumble, were unavailable for comment. Safa communications manager Dominic Chimhavi would not be drawn on the new coach, insisting the new mentor would be revealed when Jordaan returned from Addis Ababa, where he was competing for a spot on the CAF executive committee.
“Krol has coached in Holland,” said the source. “But he has also worked mainly in Africa since 1994, when he took charge of the Egyptian U-23s and, later, the senior team. What appears to have given him an added advantage is that he is available to start without delay.”
South Africa’s next official matches are the back-to-back 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde in August and September.
“So the Guinea-Bissau and Angola matches have been arranged entirely because the two teams play similar [football] to the Portuguese-speaking Blue Sharks of Cape Verde,” the source said.
“The thinking … is to allow Bafana to get a sense of what to expect from Cape Verde, but also to give the new coach an opportunity to see [who] he would be working with.”
The selection of Kamohelo Mokotjo to the national team now seems like a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The FC Twente player has taken up Dutch citizenship, which renders him ineligible to play for his native country.
He is said to have given up his South African citizenship following differences with Mashaba. It seems unlikely he will wear a green and gold jersey again, but his switch to Dutch nationality could make signing for any European team easier.
Portugal-based former Mamelodi Sundowns holding
midfielder Bongani Zungu has been a regular feature for Vitória de Guimarães and could be called up to the squad after initially being left out.
The selected players include another player exiled by Mashaba — Kermit Erasmus — who will join his compatriots in Johannesburg and then head to Durban, where they will prepare for the clash against Guinea-Bissau at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. The match is scheduled for Saturday March 25 under the guidance of Bafana assistant coach Owen da Gama.