Monday, 7 May 2012

Komphela? Matthaus? Gullit? No, the new Kaizer Chiefs boss is... Stuart Baxter.

SO much for a little bit of excitement at Kaizer Chiefs. Lothar Matthaus’s CV has been submitted, Ruud Gullit’s shadow has been lurking over Naturena. But today, back to earth with a bump; we are told former South Africa boss Stuart Baxter is set to be named as the new coach.
The 58-year-old Scotsman is not confirmed, but both of the major South African football websites, and seem convinced – and the Wolverhampton-born journeyman has been spotted with Amakhosi founder Kaizer Motaung and his son-cum-mismanager Bobby in recent weeks.
Darn. Steve Komphela, a former Chief and local, has had a great season with Free State Stars and looked a great choice to take over from the current caretakers Doc Khumalo and Donald “Ace” Khuse. Clearly Komphela’s new role as assistant to Pitso Mosimane took precedence. Or did Kaizer just not fancy a local coach?
A new chief for the Chiefs appeared a must after the string of defeats which followed the departure of hard-line Serbian Vladimir Vermezovic a month ago. The upset win over leaders Mamelodi Sundowns last week was never going to be enough, though Chiefs could conceivably still finish in the top three.
So what do we know of Baxter? Is he better than Komphela… or Germany’s 1990 World Cup winning captain Matthaus? Or even the smooth-talking Gullit, generally unimpressive as a coach but a clear rival in the fame stakes when it comes to Sundowns’ own Dutch boss Johan Neeskens?
As far as I can tell, Baxter was last employed as “an advisor to the coach” at Swedish club AIK after ending his Finnish international connection last year.
Born in Wolverhampton but claiming kilt-wearing Scottishness through his dad, Baxter played for Preston North End in 1973. He later moved north to Dundee United before returning to England with Stockport County. Baxter then moved to Australia, Sweden and the United States with South Melbourne FC, Helsingborgs IF and San Diego Sockers to extend a playing career which ended in 1983 at the tender age of 30.
Much like new England boss Roy Hodgson (more about me and him here Baxter went to Viking country for his first adult coaching experience. And the Hodgson connections don’t end there.
After working with Örebro SK's youth team he became manager at Idrettsforeningen Skarp (don’t ask me to spell that) in Norway in 1986 but moved up in the footballing world pretty quickly when he went to Portugal’s Vitória de Setúbal a year later.
By 1988, he was back in Sweden, where Halmstads BK were still recovering from Hodgson’s departure. In his first year with Halmstad he guided them to promotion but two seasons later they were relegated and Baxter decamped to Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima before joining Vissel Kobe days after the earthquake of 1997. He worked out of a caravan as the club’ headquarters had been destroyed.
A year later, he was back in Scandinavia, this time with some success, winning the title with AIK before taking on Barcelona, Arsenal and Fiorentina in Champions League qualification. Sadly, they finished bottom of this particular group of death.
By the turn of the Millennium, he was with Norwegian side Lyn Oslo. But interesting times loomed.
Baxter took his first coaching job in England in 2002, when the Football Association asked him to coach England’s Under 19s; he was doing okay back in Britain... then South Africa made him Bafana Bafana boss.
He looked a fair appointment; experienced, FA backed, urbane. But qualifying proved fruitless, South Africa failed to make the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, and Baxter left in the autumn of 2005 after just over two years in the Rainbow Nation.
True to form, Baxter found himself back in Scandinavia, after another short spell with Vissel Kobe in Japan. This time it was another former Hodgson club, Helsingborg. He got them to the knock-out stages of the 2007 UEFA Cup/Europa League, and then resigned to take over as Finland’s national manager, another job title he shares with Hodgson.
Throughout the post South Africa years, Baxter kept in contact with players and agents in the PSL, and – using his Celtic connections – he secured a trial for Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego “Killer” Mphela amongst others at Parkhead.
He was rumoured to be headed for Glasgow as Celtic’s technical director during the 2010 World Cup but chose to extend his contract with Finland, promising to lead them to Euro 2012 later this year.
Defeats against Moldova and Hungary dented those hopes. Finland slumped in the FIFA rankings from 33 to 86 - and in November 2010 they parted “by mutual consent” after an acrimonious fall out with the local media. He told them: “You don’t have the footballing knowledge to have a go at me.”
Though linked repeatedly with major Swedish club Malmo FF – the only Swedish side ever to reach a European final - Baxter and his goakeeping son Lee were last employed as “advisors” back at AIK in Sweden before establishing contact with Kaizer and Bobby Motaung.
Though there are highpoints on that lengthy multinational CV, Baxter’s appointment – like Hodgson’s – will not stir the imagination. A lot depends now on what happens to Doc and Ace… and who is brought in at Naturena to help Baxter in his bid to rebuild after the VV era. Personally, I’d have gone for Komphela. A former Chiefs and Bafana captain, as articulate as they come and tactically astute, he is the local choice most South Africans seemed to favour.
But as usual, Kaizer – and Bobby – have steered the family business in a cheaper, safer direction. I hope the nation’s estimated 15 million Amakhosi will be happy with Baxter. Like Hodgson, I wish him luck in his new venture. He too will need plenty of it.
You can read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday in Watch eNews (DSTV 403) every Monday morning at 8.15am for my weekend round-ups. And you can follow me at

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