|ONE GOAL: Kaizer Chiefs striker Kingston "Boo" Nkhatha|
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STUART BAXTER’S post-match interview was chilling. Much more than a simple rant. Nobody else appears to have picked up the full impact of his frustration with the Kaizer Chiefs boo boys in Polokwane. Here it is, word for word:
“I’ll be very honest, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it. I’ve got to make a decision. Do I want to continue working at a club where you don’t know if your best players are going to be depressed because of some idiots in the crowd?
“I’ve got to make a decision. And maybe that decision is: I DON’T WANT TO DO IT."
Yes, a threat to quit, moments after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chippa United at the Peter Mokabe Stadium a venue where, he admits: “I don’t like coming.”
And this from a man who had just recorded his 16th League game undefeated. Shocking … but not unprecedented.
In March, when Chiefs looked like they were going to walk away with a second successive title, Baxter said much the same after his non-scoring striker Kingston Nkhatha was – once again - booed in Polokwane.
I spoke to him after that initial outburst. Go google my name and his to find the details, the video, the frustration. And we’re right back there. A coach who should be cockahoop after the strongest possible start to the season finds himself bewildered by his club’s ungrateful fans, or “idiots” in his words.
The AmaKhosi have a point of course. Fans always do. On Saturday, Nkhatha had at least two excellent chances to add to the solitary goal he’s managed all season. They all went straight to the keeper. Bernard Parker, the PSL’s Golden Boot with just 10 last season, scored the winner, bringing his tally to a meagre three.
Kaizer Chiefs have gone surging further ahead than ANY other club in world football right now with the minimum of goals and the minimum of fuss. Their crusade has been based around goals from midfield (George Lebese and Reneilwe Letsholonyane have both scored 5, Mandla Masango has 4) with the occasional vital contribution from their centre-backs at set-pieces.
|A serious boos problem: Nkhatha and Baxter|
It’s not the most attractive style. But, by George, it works. In effect, Baxter has been verging on the controversial Spain formation with the “false No 9”. At Euro 2012, Vicente del Bosque discarded Fernando Torres for Cesc Fabregas and confounded the opposing centre-halves looking to mark the out-and-out scorer.
In truth, Nkhatha is the spearhead, but often he is tracking back, making the early challenge from the long ball, while Parker – who hadn’t scored AT ALL until his brace against Bidvest Wits a fortnight ago – lurks in peripheral areas, only recently breaking in to the box with the late run.
All of which leaves the two Georges – Lebese and Maluleka – with Masango, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Yeye to score from wide or deep and extend the apparently endless unbeaten run.
Chelsea, whose own run in the English Premier League ended against Newcastle a week ago, wouldn’t dare to try such a system without Diego Costa. Real Madrid, with 20 wins on the trot, rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to break records. Bayern Munich have Mario Götze. Barcelona have Luis Suarez when Lionel Messi and Neymar Junior don’t weigh in.
But Kaizer Chiefs have Nkhatha. A 29-year-old Zimbabwean warhorse who has NEVER been prolific in a career going back to his 41 games and just FIVE goals for Free State Stars between 2007 and 2011.
Chiefs haven’t scored a lot. 24 in 16 unbeaten games is a remarkably miserly tally for our runaway PSL leaders. It would barely get them in the top five in Spain, England or Germany. But add their MTN8 triumph and the Telkom KO “draw” (they were eliminated on penalties by Platinum Stars) and they haven’t lost in 22 games this season.
That form is unquestionable. Indisputable. You can understand why Baxter gets so frustrated. Having won the PSL in his opening season – a first for a foreign coach in South Africa – they finished second last season after a remarkable collapse with the injured Parker losing his scoring boots.
This season, with the African Champions League campaign looming, Baxter has had to make do without star goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune – back on the bench for the first time since early September on Saturday – and expensive striker Katlego “Killer” Mphela. And he has surpassed all expectations.
But still the AmaKhosi boo. Especially in that far northern outpost Polokwane, a home from home for the Chiefs.
Baxter told me: "Fans who boo their own players when we are top of the League? Who boos a player who works as hard as Nkatha? Deplorable. I don't understand it.
"My assistant Doctor Khumalo feels we should bring legends to educate the fans, but I don't see why. We go to Polokwane to show them our team, we don't go to get our players booed by our fans."
Chiefs play modest Free State Stars on Tuesday night in a bid to move their record beyond WWWWWWWWDDWDWWDW to a phenomenal SEVENTEEN unbeaten. Orlando Pirates’ unbeaten run reads DW. Think about it. Do the AmaKhosi REALLY have to boo their non-scoring striker?
Just look at Eric Tinkler’s Buccaneers. They were goalless against former boss Roger de Sa’s weakened Ajax Cape Town for 55 minutes.
Then Lennox Bacela asked to come off, and the bench panicked. For three long minutes Pirates played with ten men. And then the unthinkable happened: Kermit Erasmus came on to join Lehlohonolo Majoro. The dynamic duo I told Vladimir Vermecovic to use for months had finally come together.
Just last week, Tinkler was telling us they were “too similar to play together” but more by luck than judgement Majoro produced the first – an own goal – bouncing it in off post and the back of Finnish goalkeeper Ansi Jaakkola. Seconds later Major made it 2-0. Erasmus forced the corner converted by Siya Sangweni and then added a remarkably calm fourth himself.
In half-an-hour, Tinkler had gone from caretaker villain to pantomime hero, thanks to a tactical change which was forced upon him. Two hours after Baxter’s rant, he was telling us how crucial Erasmus’s goal was after those misses against Sundowns last week.
Not the best from a coach under pressure. Kermit’s talent was never in question, surely? Tinkler’s selection process, like VV’s is what should be under scrutiny.
|Best in the world? Kaizer Chiefs after 16 games|
Still, Tinkler did better than Pitso Mosimane after his reigning champions had been held 1-1 at lowly Amatuks. Sullen and sulky, he gave the post-match interview from hell.
Watching Roger de Sa after he’d been hammered by his old mate Tinkler and Sammy Troughton trying to explain his feelings on PSL referees it strikes you: our PSL coaches are dragged before the microphone too quickly. Not even an ad break and the post-match interrogation is upon them. In Europe they have a period to consider, calm down.
Perhaps that’s why Baxter, Tinkler, De Sa and Mosimane are the talking points of a fascinating weekend. My view? Coaches opinions are paramount. But that doesn’t mean the fans can’t express themselves. They pay for that privilege.