|Top of the pile: Stuart Baxter|
It’s all very well turning to club PROs and talking heads when you discuss the Soweto derby. But after Saturday’s goalless efforts in front of over 90,000 at Soccer City, you need a man of experience to explain what appears to be a footballing train smash in front of the biggest sporting crowd in the world last weekend.
Gavin Hunt, Mark Fish, Doc Khumalo, Roger De Sa, Clive Barker. They are such men. So too is Stuart Baxter, the coach roundly written off when he arrived, indirectly, to replace the unlamented Brazilian Julio Leal at the helm of the best-supported club in South Africa.
Before the greatest derby in Africa, we had Vina Maphosa, spokesman of Kaizer Chiefs, taking on Mickey Modisane of Orlando Pirates. It was great. We upset Vina earlier in the week by revealing his AmaKhosi had appointed a new acting Managing Director without telling us. Goodnews Cadogan had jumped the gun by revealing his new-found status on Facebook.
On Friday we caught Mickey too – we had a recording of Roger de Sa telling Udo Carelse on 702’s SportsTalk on Thursday night: “Benni McCarthy is just not fit, he can barely kick a ball.” But on Friday morning the official Orlando Pirates website quoted Benni saying he was fit and raring to go for the derby, and that it was just up to the technical team to select him.
Poor old Mickey. Which was the truth? How could the Buccaneers not spot the contradiction? “I haven’t seen the medical reports,” he complained, “What the coach says is right… and so is Benni.”
Confused? We were.
So when it comes to analysing the game itself, a goalless affair marked by spectacular saves at both ends and what looked to me like a stonewall penalty to the Pirates, you have to turn to THE MAN WHO KNOWS.
That man was born in Wolverhampton, England, 59 years ago, spent an unspectacular year in charge of Bafana eight years ago and was questioned about the validity of his CV when he returned to South Africa this season.
Now five points clear of his arch-rivals at the top of the PSL, Baxter is on the verge of proving the critics wrong, of celebrating that long-awaited championship with the Amakhosi.
“I've never seen so many good players giving the ball away. The passing game on both sides was erratic. I think that's why it was more end to end, because the transitions (Baxter’s favourite word) were giving each other opportunities.”
“If you take any big derby, Manchester or Milan, they rarely justice do the size of the event. There were nerves out there. I've seen very few really good derby games. Usually they're blood and thunder. I don't think this one really took off.
“I know everybody asks, when we play and Pirates play, if we are sitting glued to the TV, and hoping they're going to lose. I have to say, I don't want any of our players to have that attitude. We don't become a better team if Pirates lose.
"We become a better team if we work hard at our own game, and we become an over-optimistic team sometimes if they lose or drop points.
"It's the same for us. They don't suddenly become 10 classes better if we concede two goals.”
On Kickoff.com, Baxter confessed: “I was quite happy with the first 20 minutes, we got into the game and we settled but we were not creating as many chances as we would like. Pirates took over in the last 15 minutes of the first half, because when we had the ball we gave it back to them.
"I was concerned when we went in at half-time. My team talk was obviously useless because we did the same in the next 15 minutes after half-time. But then for some reason, the lads pulled together and got better defensively.
"If you ask me if we were unlucky (not to get the winner) I don't know. We had a couple of chances towards the finish and their keeper Senzo Meyiwa came up trumps.
“I agree with Roger that it wasn't the best of games in the world.”
WILL UPDATE THIS WITH STUART BAXTER QUOTES FROM TONIGHT'S INTERVIEW!