Baxter's bizarre national team plan will intensify club v country battle

Stuart Baxter
Image: Veli Nhlapo

A club versus country tug-of-war seems to be on the horizon as Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter unveiled his over-zealous plan to have "two or even three" national team squads playing simultaneously.

Baxter's bold but impractical game plan is to see one senior team playing in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and another side playing in the Cosafa Cup in Polokwane next month and in the Olympic qualifiers.

Come to think of it, Baxter said his master plan has not yet even received the stamp of approval from his bosses at Safa House. So why put the cart before the horse?

Let's say he gets his way; how does he envisage handling the management of the two squads concurrently?

It's a given that the international fixture schedule, involving continental and world competition qualifiers and finals tournaments, can be taxing on any country's football calendar.

Baxter's game plan is bound to set him on a collision course with clubs unless he is contemplating recruiting some of the players from the lower tier National First Division, or even go down to Safa's ABC Motsepe League for reinforcements.

The question is, where will the bulk of about 80 to 100 players be drawn from while overseas and local-based players are engaged in club commitments?

Furthermore, players are not under any obligation to honour Cosafa Cup call-ups.

The contestation for players, as international duty commitments increase, has become a huge factor, exacerbated also by the increase in Fifa and CAF competitions.

Fans themselves put pressure on the clubs to first and foremost win club competitions before putting the national team as their priority.

Clubs also feel they are the rightful custodians of players because they fork out millions paying their salaries.

Baxter's grandiose plan is to use matches against World Cup-bound teams as preparation for the 2019 Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations and for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers.

As things stand, South Africa must qualify and finish in the top three of the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt next year or emerge victorious in a play-off involving opposition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) before booking a flight to Tokyo in Japan.

No doubt, clubs shun the Cosafa and Chan tournaments. It becomes a mission to release their regulars. Looking at the situation the other way round, it is the very tournaments the clubs despise that elevate players constantly sitting on the bench to become regulars.

Once they are exposed on the continental stage and start performing well, coaches promote them to being regulars, then refuse to release them for these very "insignificant" tournaments.

Going forward, it has been proven that there are no winners or losers in the club versus country saga.

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