Monday, 15 December 2014

BOOGATE EXCLUSIVE: Baxter is SERIOUS about those Kaizer Chiefs quit threats: It's all about respect for South Africa's No1 coach

If you're a football journalist reading this, feel free to lift quotes... but please credit me.

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Deadly serious: Baxter could quit over Nkhatha's treatment


AS BOOGATE broke across the internet on Sunday after Stuart Baxter's astonishing post-match interview in Polokwane on Saturday night, the real question became clear: was the coach of unbeaten runaway leaders Kaizer Chiefs REALLY threatening to quit over the booing of non-scoring striker Kingston Nkhatha?

It certainly sounded that way (see previous post), and I wasn't comfortable going along that line without speaking to Stuart himself. I started off on the wrong foot with him nearly three years ago, questioning his CV and commitment.

I was badly wrong and said so, we enjoyed a very public apology and reconciliation (google it, it's on YouTube). Today, in a PSL where NINE of the 16 coaches have already shifted hot-seats this season (I broke the story of Ernst Middendorp's departure from Bloemfontein Celtic last night), Baxter is, by some margin, the longest surviving boss. He's finished first and second in two seasons and is now top of the PSL by 13 points, uneaten in 16 games, eager to set up an academy system at Naturena and has never been more successful.

We get on well. There is a common bond, two Englishmen loving the new South Africa, eager to put our football up where it belongs; developing talent, exposing dodgy practices and putting our cards on the table even when it hurts.

Baxter should be the most secure man in football management WORLD WIDE given his current record. No other league globally offers unbeaten leaders 13 points clear as we near the halfway point of the season. But a long chat on on Sunday afternoon did little to dispel the feeling that Baxter will NOT BACK DOWN over Nkhatha's treatement by "an idiotic minority" of the AmaKhosi - and other issues to do with respect at the club.

Baxter to the future: Stuart and me
I cannot reveal all that was said between us, Suffice to say the conversation came close to the chats I used to have with Roger de Sa when he was reaching cup final after cup final at Orlando Pirates and surviving serious African Champions League challenges.

But like Roger, Stuart is not comfortable with much that is going on around him. He should be, but he isn't. Too much "bullshit", too many "sinister forces" - though he insists team selection, if not player recruitment, remains ENTIRELY in his hands.

There are issues over how his squad is treated, over what his players are expected to do before vital games, about how his advice is treated by officials at Kaizer Chiefs.

Baxter has compiled expert documentation on pre-match preparation - just being on your feet and travelling on a bus can impact on performance - and a guide to how a young player should grow up from 13 if he wants to become a top professional in the gold-and-black. But he feels that guidance - and the academy he was hoping to restore to glory after age-cheating scandals four years ago - is going nowhere.

The word that crops up again and again is RESPECT. Respect is everything to the man from Wolverhampton, who grew up in a football family (he remembers vividly when his dad Bill was over-looked for the Aston Villa hot-seat, he walked away rather than taking a job for life at the club) and has plied his trade all over the world.

Any doubts about his willingness to quit over Nkhatha's treatment are quickly dispelled: “I stand by what I said. If people boo my players, if they won’t respect their own team, I will be forced to leave Kaizer Chiefs.”

Baxter, who used the word “idiots” to describe those booing Zimbabwean Nkhatha, 29, after the 1-0 win over Chippa United at Polokwane on Saturday, said: “It sounded like a threat to resign? It was meant to sound like that. Honestly Neal, use this as you want. I’m in a pretty strong position at the moment.

“We’ve tried everything. Appeals to the crowd, campaigns, posters. The team don’t look forward to playing in Polokwane. That’s what it is at the moment. I won't apologise for using the word idiots. It was said in the heat of the moment but it applies to those who boo their own player.

“If you don’t respect the players, you may lose the coach. Is that over the top? Probably. The sensible ones have to pull them in line, there were a few telling them to be quiet.

“There’s an element in there, Kingston plays well, can’t buy a goal. Why? He’s strong but he isn’t deaf. He’s s****ing himself everytime he’s in a scoring position. I’ve just watched Sunderland West Ham, 1-1, Jozi Altidor (USA international) has a chance the same as Kingston’s, falls over himself, misses.

“He cost them a packet with that miss on Saturday. Is there booing? Insulting behaviour? No. Supporter is the term. It contains the word SUPPORT. Not a slaughterer, a supporter. I can tell you without fear of contradiction: KINGSTON DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE BOOED. He’s a great lad, hard-working, a real team player."

Baxter agrees Nkatha's return of one goal this season is not acceptable. But he insists Kingston remains the best choice for his all-conquering Chiefs this season. He understands questioning of his selection processes, but refuses to accept "home" fans at the Peter Mokabe booing their own - and it's not just Nkhatha who suffers.

Baxter, choosing his words carefully, says: “Look, when I say idiots, it’s a minority. I could see many of the real supporters telling them to stop it. Most of the real AmaKhosi. What I can’t accept is these others, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand the damage they’re doing by targeting a player.

“It’s not just a boo when they make a mistake, it’s constant targeting of a player, it brings down confidence, affects the WHOLE TEAM. Even when they’re warming up in Polokwane, the substitutes are getting abuse.

“It’s my job to protect my players. I have to speak out. It’s my job. Some people love this, will use it to destabilise my side. But if they don’t  get it when I’ve won 16 games on the trot. In the African Champions League they will intimidate the opposition, not their own players. We will travel north facing plenty of booing from the opposition fans. That's how football SHOULD be.

“If people can’t respect what I say, then so be it. I have adapted to South Africa, just like I did in Scandinavia, the USA, Japan. My style of management here is very different to what it was in Sweden or Finland, Japan or England. I can put up with a lot. But if they carry on booing, that’s it. I will go.”

With a double-header to come in Polokwane - soon to be known as Booburg - tomorrow, Baxter will be listening. His table-toppers play Free State Stars at 6pm after the Reconciliation Day opener between the real home team, Polokwane City and AmaTuks at 3pm.

If the boo-boys go for Nkhatha again, Baxter will not back down. At the very least, he will demand an end to "home" games in Polokwane. At worst, he could even walk away. The idiots have been warned. If you are REALLY an AmaKhosi fan, back Nkhatha. Back your runaway PSL leaders. Or risk losing everything.

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