As early as his first match on the bench, the signs were there that Stuart Baxter was going to struggle to instantly fulfil the ’saviour’ role he was brought back to perform, writes MATSHELANE MAMABOLO.
IT MAY have been the embarrassing defeat by Royal AM that got the Kaizer Chiefs fans to demand that Stuart Baxter be fired. The reality, however, is that as early as his first match on the bench, the signs were there that the Briton was going to struggle to instantly fulfil the “saviour” role he was brought back to perform.
When Baxter took charge for the CAF Champions League final after having worked in the background as Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard continued where Gavin Hunt had left off, I suspected that Amakhosi had erred. And so it proved, the former Bafana Bafana coach failing for the umpteenth time to get one over his nemesis Pitso Mosimane.
Incredibly, many a Chiefs fan – as well as the club – dismissed that defeat as but a mere aberration, choosing instead to celebrate the fact they had reached the final of the continent’s premier club competition.
The success in the gimmicky pre-season Carling Cup over arch-rivals Orlando Pirates was deemed a sign of things to come, many of the “peace-loving” Amakhosi already declaring the championship theirs – excited as they were by the “thrilling” football their club played.
Those of us who have been in the game long enough knew only too well not to read much into that beer cup win.
Come the new DStv Premiership season and Chiefs’ exit from the MTN8 at the first hurdle sent alarm bells ringing, the fact they’d held champions Mamelodi Sundowns to a stalemate only to lose in the shoot-out from the penalty spot notwithstanding.
And when they could only draw with TS Galaxy and sneak a one-goal margin victory over Baroka FC in their opening league matches, you wondered just what it was that made Kaizer Motaung believe Baxter could replicate the success from his previous tenure five seasons ago.
For one, the team that Chiefs have now is nowhere near the quality of the one that Baxter had then when he was in charge of a squad boasting of a solid back four who were fantastic in contributing goals from set pieces. Because of their defensive strength, Chiefs could play Baxter’s way, soak up the pressure and catch the opposition on counter-attacks – transitional play to use the man’s favourite phrase.
The current Chiefs team though is nothing like that one.
When they won the Carling Cup, Chiefs were praised by all and sundry for their attacking style with some even suggesting that we could well see the rebirth of the Phefeni Glamour Boys of the eighties and early nineties– that Chiefs team which played exciting, attacking football teeming with flair.
One analyst warned though that Baxter will have to change his playing philosophy for that to happen. Few coaches are able to adapt to their players though with many often stuck in their ways and forcing players to do it their way. And it is already clear that Baxter is among those. The league defeats by Sundowns and Royal AM suggest this much.
And while it is probably too early to start calling for him to be fired, the fans’ anger at seeing their team being humiliated the way they were by Shauwn Mkhize’s upstarts was understandable.
This is Kaizer Chiefs we are talking about, the country’s most supported team and arguably most successful since their formation in 1970.
The other day I met a former employee of the club who found it “ridiculous” that the fans were calling for Baxter to resign, arguing that the club’s success is not solely dependent on the coach but on a lot of other factors. Fair enough.
But at a club as big as Chiefs are, results such as those from last weekend should not be tolerated, and the coach – as leader – must bear most of the brunt for such.
Ask anyone who played for or coached the club in its heydays and they will tell you just how the chairman Kaizer Motaung reacted to such poor showings. Stories are told of a livid Bra K going down into the dressing rooms at half-time when the club was “playing k*k”and telling everyone – players and coaches – just how they better shape up because it was his name (Kaizer) and not theirs that would be “tarnished in the papers tomorrow”.
Kaizer’s name was tarnished last weekend alright! And while chances are that the old man – who has mellowed over time – might not have shouted unprintable words in the dressing room, can you blame the fans for being as angry as they were?
Big clubs the world over don’t take defeats kindly, unpredictable as the sport might be.
Did you see how Al Ahly reacted to losing the Egyptian Super Cup around the same time? Slapping the technical team with massive fines tells the story of a club that knows they are the best and always expects their team to deliver.
Kaizer Chiefs had no reason losing 4-1 to Royal AM and the fans were justified in their anger.
Whatever the outcome of Chiefs’ weekend encounter against Marumo Gallants is, Baxter needs to do better. The reality is that he has been brought back to do more than just beat a bottom-of-the-table team. Baxter returned to coach in the country as a saviour and he better produce good consistent results.
Under his guidance, Chiefs were not supposed to have afternoons such as the one they had at the FNB Stadium against Royal AM. With him in charge, Chiefs were meant to be leading the table as early as the first five matches, en route to deposing Sundowns as the DStv Premiership champions.
They are not and he better start making sure they make serious inroads into that.
One of the reasons our football does not improve much is because local club owners have way too much faith and trust in European coaches, a number of whom are no better than our local coaches. And so it should be that any of those who come here should be expected to deliver on a higher scale or face the wrath of the fans.
Did I hear someone say that the players must also be of a high quality and deliver too? Sure, but Baxter had a hand in assembling the current Chiefs squad he is in charge of and he has to make certain that they live up to their billing as members of the country’s top club.
And should he not, Bra K owes it to the Amakhosi faithful to show him the door – just like he did with Gavin Hunt.