Soon after his return to Naturena was announced, Stuart Baxter was back at it as if sensing the negativity that has engulfed Kaizer Chiefs for the past season.
JOHANNESBURG – One of the key strengths of new Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter is his ability to galvanise players and fans with positive talk.
Soon after his return to Naturena was announced yesterday, Baxter was back at it as if sensing the negativity that has engulfed Chiefs for the past season. His assessment: “It will take more than immediate results for the club to return to the top of South African football, as it will be important for Chiefs to find their identity by keeping their eyes on the pathway, not on the destination.
“When I was here the last time, I knew that Chiefs hadn’t won anything for quite a while. And so, when I came in, I knew that winning something was a priority for them. I didn’t look at only winning trophies but I was also trying to build the team.
“I was also trying to bind the supporters. I was trying to help us find an identity. I think that was the interesting part. And I think that will be the same for us again. If we can keep our eyes on the pathway, not on the destination, I think that will be important.”
In his first stint at the Soweto club (from 2012-2015) Baxter won four trophies, including two Premiership titles. But since his departure, the team’s reputation has deteriorated as they have endured a six-year trophy drought. Four coaches have been hired and fired during this period.
In the recently-concluded season, their resurgent aspirations took a massive knock as they were handed a one year transfer ban by Fifa. This is despite their bold move to appoint Gavin Hunt, who is a highly-rated coach in the domestic game. Hunt’s gig followed the sacking of Ernst Middendorp who lost out on the league title on the last day of the 2019-20 season.
Hunt, though, found the going tough with the inherited squad, failing to be among the title contenders. He was subsequently relieved of his duties with four matches to go – two in the league and two in the Caf Champions League semi-finals.
Interim coaches Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard completed half of the task at hand, inspiring the team to a top-eight finish.
Yesterday, though, Amakhosi announced the return of Baxter to the club on a two-year deal, with the option to extend for a further two years.
“I think Kaizer Chiefs have moved forward a lot since I was here the last time. This time, there’ll be a lot of expectations and I’ll have to manage that,” Baxter said. “This time the league is tougher. It is, especially looking at the bottom teams.
“There are tight games. It will be different and the game has moved forward, and changed. I remember when I came the last time and spoke about transition, some people laughed. Now it’s an integral part of everyone’s game.”
There’s an urge from Chiefs supporters to return to winning ways and compete among the best in South Africa and on the continent. In order to achieve that, and rediscover their identity, Baxter will still be assisted by the evergreen Zwane and Sheppard.
Furthermore, Chiefs are hoping there is synergy between the seniors and development structures as they have appointed Baxter’s former assistant and successor at Bafana Bafana Molefi Ntseki as the Head of Technical and Youth development academy.
“I think Kaizer Chiefs has been on a period of expansion for quite a few years. That probably started to pick up when I was here the last time,” Baxter said.
“It’s great to see Molefi joining Chiefs. He’s a top class football person. I am looking forward to working with him again.”