AFCON 2019: Stuart Baxter on VAR debut and referee apology for Nigeria off-side calls at FNB stadium

Tonight, Bafana Bafana play Nigeria’s Super Eagles in a quarter-final of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). 
They have not had an easy path to the quarter-finals, and were potential victims of a match-changing decision in the absence of VAR in the group stage, so what does Stuart Baxter, their 65-year-old European coach think of VAR? 
"I think the reason the people within the game support VAR – let’s say the majority of people – is because the game, the consequences of a bad decision, of a blatantly wrong decision now are so much more important," Baxter told KickOff's Satish Sekar exclusively. 
"When I say important, the people that are investing the budget of a small country in their football clubs now. People are winning or losing a game, which means the livelihoods of so many people."
Baxter, like most, wants the correct decisions.
"I have to say it’s important that we get those decisions right, that when it’s a penalty and the incident took place four metres inside the penalty area, the referee because of a weak mentality cannot blow and point to an inch outside of the box any more,” he said.
"You have to know if it’s there, it’s there – that’s it.  If it’s a red card, it’s a red card. We want it as perfect as possible. We’re never going to get it perfect.
“There will still be, even the guy who’s reading the VAR and the referee, they’ll maybe disagree and the decision where the television experts will be going, ‘No, they’ve got it wrong,’ but we need to minimise that because the consequences are getting greater and greater and greater.”
When the Bafana Bafana played Nigeria at home in AFCON qualification respected referee, Bakary Gassama had a bad day at the office – so bad that he felt the need to apologise Nigeria’s captain Ahmed Musa for wrongly disallowing a goal.
Baxter feels this went too far.
“Well apologies from referees are quite empty, you know,” he said. “If he had gone through the game, he’d have seen that some of his decisions weren’t very good.
“No, I don’t think he should apologise for that, because at that time, I’m sure he didn’t give a penalty for no reason, or he didn’t give an offside for no reason. 
“He did it understanding that this is the way I see it.”
Baxter points out that there was no apology in another match where South Africa were the victims of poor officiating by Tanzanian referee, Mfaume Nassoro.
“When we played the Seychelles in the Seychelles, we had a 185% penalty that we didn’t get,” Baxter explained. “No-one apologised to me afterwards and said, ‘I’m sorry if you get the sack. We’ll come and pay your wife and your kids’ food for the next two years,’ so I think that refereeing is a vastly difficult job. 
“I don’t understand why individual decisions, you apologise. I watched that decision and I can understand why he gave t because it was a close one. 
“I can understand that Musa is quick and he covers ground very quickly and the split second, I can understand why at the time.
“I didn’t think it was a bad decision, watching it again in slow motion I understand it was the wrong decision, but there were other wrong decisions in the game. VAR would have checked that one.”
While VAR would have corrected the Musa goal decision, Baxter points out that it would also have helped South Africa. In fact, if both decisions had been corrected, the Bafana Bafana would have been better off – one point lost two points gained.
“Now VAR would have given us 3 points in the Seychelles as well,” Baxter said. 
“As I say, you don’t complain too much when it goes against you, because you know that’s the game – the same way if the ball hits the post and goes in, you know you’re not the genius just because it happened. 
"That’s the game and that’s the way it is, and I think refereeing is always going to be a very contentious occupation, so you’d better have thick skin if you take the job.”
Consequences of the Absence of VAR
These were qualifiers for Africa’s most important nations tournament. Why wouldn’t they have VAR for them? Baxter points to the cost.
“But you know when you think of the costs and you think some of the countries that would need to be doing that, I don’t think that CAF would be prepared to foot the bill,” Baxter said.
“You know it would be a cost to the hosting nation in any case and CAF are not going to foot the cost for that – not just yet – and FIFA, I think, still left a little bit to be desired with their involvement in the African continent.”
But what of the consequences. A wrong decision can mean losing points, and in a ‘results’ industry that can cost a coach their job. Is that fair? 
“Well that’s what I say,” Baxter said. "It’s very unfair.
"If you wanted things to be equal, to be as correct as possible, then we need to have it. 
“I’m guessing that when the pressure wasn’t on the way it is now, a coach could get away with losing a game and not facing the immediate sack. 
“Now, if you look around the world, you’ll see less and less patience from supporters, from media, from chairmen, from players towards the coach, so, yeah, I think it’s important.”