Monday, 11 May 2015

STUART BAXTER EXCLUSIVE: The best season of my career, the struggles... And the future

You wouldn't think Stuart Baxter had just completed the most satisfying season of his long and varied coaching career. You'd hardly notice he has just broken a host of PSL records to guide Kaizer Chiefs to 69 points and a 12-point cushion over crushed champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

In fact, speaking to Stuart on Monday afternoon, as the hype over coronation settled after a sell-out game at the Nelson Mandela Stadium left one fan shot dead by a police revolver, you'd think Baxter had been in charge at Choppa United or Queens Park Strangers.

Oh, he's proud. And he's content with what his squad achieved given that their best striker only scored 7 goals and their only big signing failed to score a league goal in half a season.

Barker, born in Wolverhampton 61 years ago, has coached all over the world, from Scandinavia to Japan and he concedes: "In terms of records and domination, you're right, it has to be the best. It was a real struggle at times, people may not have appreciated that, but we got the job done.

"There was a point, after all the hype over our fabulous start, when it looked like a dip was coming. When we lost and drew a couple, people were saying crisis.

"But this time the lads dug in, they held their nerve and we got the train back on track with some decisive 1-0 wins and although our rivals were asking "Is this another Chiefs crisis" we were able to make sure it didn't develop, and suddenly we were winning again.

"The key? Our defence, obviously. Tefu Mashamaite and Tshepo Masilela were magnificent, so was Tower Mathoho and Siboniso Gaxa, like Tefu, barely missed a game.

"Most of our goals came from set pieces or midfield, where Willard Katsande turned in to more of an all-rounder, making 25 yard passes and intercepting rather than clobbering the opposition.

"Willard even got a goal in the final game, we celebrated that one - we'd worked on a new set piece for two weeks to set it up!"

But for a man who has just won a double of PSL and MTN8 and taken his prize money over three seasons to over R50m, there was little of the Mourinho swagger.

Baxter leaves for Sweden and the UK at the end of month, like he has for the last two seasons. but this time, there are important meetings to be held with Bobby Motaung about signings, new contracts and the mythical academy at Naturena.

Though Baxter has played little part in previous signings - notably David Zulu's R4m move with a knee injury - this time he intends to play a major role in a winter of substantial change at the club, with TWELVE players headed for the exit door.

And he insists that, if he stays at the club, the African Champions League will be taken seriously, as it was this year, though Chiefs suffered a first round knock-out at the hands of Morocco's Raja Casablanca.

Baxter insists: "People who understand the game know we went to Casablanca with a full squad, we won a lot of friends for the way we played. we travelled knowing we had lost the home leg and had vital domestic games to worry about but we DID take it seriously and lost to one of the best teams in Africa.

"We can't beat teams like that without investing in our squad. You know we needed a striker. We had James Keene over for a look, he did well. He's 29, did well in Germany, and he was a free agent. The deal was on the table but it was ignored.

"There are two or three  local strikers we're looking at but there's not much about. You know about Rob Earnshaw (former Wales international) being interested and that's the kind of thing we have to consider.

"We don't want to go down the root of Japanese football, opening doors to players who have passed their sell-by date but look at what New Zealand's Jeremy Brockie has achieved in half a season.

"That's the kind of player I'm talking about, looking for quality where ever we can find it."

Baxter touched on his dream of a new Kaizer Chiefs Academy - the last was shut down five years ago after age cheating problems - and insists: "The Academy has moved on a little bit further, the pitches and dressing rooms are finished at the village, accommodation and education facilities are underway.

"But now need the coaches, a technical director. It hasn't always gone as I would have hoped."

On the thorny subject of dwindling PSL attendances, Baxter and his champions enjoyed huge crowds at Atteridgeville and Port Elizabeth AFTER the title was won but he admits: "It seems to be a problem in South Africa, it could be economics,  I don't know, sometimes we had fantastic support, sometimes felt we needed a bit of a hand from the AmaKhosi in numbers when it mattered most."

But the real problem, perhaps the underlying factor behind his low-key response to a clinical championship charge, lies in Baxter's involvement in refreshing the squad this winter.

He is reluctant to make waves about his future, but ANY top African club - and those beyond our continent - would surely show an interest in acquiring the man who has led Chiefs to two League titles - without massive spending - in three seasons.

"If I stay," he says cautiously, "We are going to have to have a big rotation. I'd have to be a mug to take over a squad I don't choose myself."

When I suggest five players who may not be offered new contracts he says: "I can come up with 12 without even stopping to think. That's a major overhaul. That's what these meetings are about before I leave for Europe. I need to have my input.

"If I get fobbed off, I will cast the net, look at other opportunities. I will allow rumors to gather strength. You can say 12 players will be moved out, if they're replaced by somebody else, how can I stay?"

Sent from my iPad

1 comment:

  1. I believe Chiefs management should let coaches decide on players to be signed bcoz clearly they ignore the coaches input when it comes to players.