Stuart Baxter has made a smart move to reward Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala with a Bafana Bafana call-up after a three-year absence, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
‘I certainly want to bring in some players that I believe can add value. And I certainly want to reward some players.’ These were the words uttered by the national team mentor prior to the historic 2-0 victory against Nigeria, the first away win against the African giants, in a 2019 African Nations Cup qualifier.
A lot has changed since then. Baxter now finds himself in a precarious position, needing wins home and away against Senegal to secure South Africa’s spot in the 2018 World Cup. In all likelihood this will be the only thing that saves Baxter from being sacked, as he was mandated to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations.
I remember the backlash of fans upon the re-appointment of Baxter as coach, with one of the biggest concerns being his reliance on more experienced players. However, the Englishman’s inclusion of senior players in his second stint at Bafana has proven successful.
Baxter should be given credit for the resurgence of 34-year-old defender Morgan Gould on the international scene, with the SuperSport man hardly putting a foot wrong since his return.
The inclusion of Tshabalala is a different kettle of fish altogether, though, and could provide a selection dilemma. Assuming that the Chiefs man will play in the central midfield to make up for his lack of pace, which players would give way?
It’s the one position where Baxter is already spoiled for choice. In recent times the likes of Hlompho Kekana, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Bongani Zungu, Dean Furman, Lebogang Manyama, Thulani Serero and Andile Jali have all occupied those spots. Can Shabba displace one of them?
Having said that, there aren’t many players in the PSL at the moment who are more deserving of a call-up than Tshabalala – far and away the best outfield player that Chiefs have had to offer in the past season and a half.
If anything, the magnitude of the encounters against the Lions of Teranga calls for someone with his ability, and more so his experience. With 88 caps under his belt, the dreadlocked midfielder remains second on the all-time most-capped national team players list behind Aaron Mokoena (107) and club teammate Itumeleng Khune (84). But then again, the last of those caps came so long ago, it would take a Google search to remind oneself when that was.
Local football fans, especially those in Soweto, will tell you that it’s a call-up that is long overdue, with his performances along with the club’s number one, Khune, proving the difference between winning and losing for the often-struggling Chiefs outfit.
A lethal left-foot and a knack for scoring stunners, Shabba can be prove to be a match-winner on any given day, but it remains to be seen just how he will be utilised by coach Baxter.
A last-ditch attempt to win fan’s support with his head perhaps on the chopping block? Or a masterstroke by a coach who knows exactly what he needs to get the job done. Only time will tell…
Photo: Gallo Images
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