I’m wiser now – Bax­ter

A week since Stu­art Bax­ter’s re­turn to SA from Europe, Ti­mothy Molobi asks the new Su­per­Sport United coach how he will han­dle turn­ing the club around

CityPress - - Sport -

Su­per­Sport United’s train­ing grounds have turned into a happy place since two-time league-win­ning coach Stu­art Bax­ter ar­rived nearly a fort­night ago.

Watch­ing the play­ers go through their paces at their base in Megawatt Park, north­ern Jo­han­nes­burg, it is clear Bax­ter has in­jected a new lease of life, as the play­ers are ex­u­ber­ant.

For­mer coach Gor­don Igesund left the team in 10th spot af­ter a poor run of form.

Bax­ter in­her­its a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to when, as a club coach in Swe­den, he pulled off the un­think­able. The 62-year-old now hopes for the same at United.

“I joined Häls­ing­borgs IF, which was se­cond from the bot­tom of the log. We fin­ished as run­ners-up and won a cup.”

Bax­ter’s man­date at United is pretty straight­for­ward: se­cure the club’s sta­tus in the premier divi­sion.

“They don’t want to fin­ish out­side the top eight, and want to be in­volved in cup com­pe­ti­tions. At the end of the sea­son, I am go­ing to be eval­u­ated to see if I have met my tar­gets, and we will take it from there,” he said.

It is Fri­day af­ter­noon and the for­mer Bafana Bafana coach, in full club train­ing kit with his top neatly tucked in, takes charge, shout­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally stop­ping play to give in­struc­tions.

This is a tense train­ing ses­sion in the buildup to the team’s Premier­ship clash against Ajax Cape Town at the Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium, which was to take place this af­ter­noon.

The ses­sion starts with a net­ball-type ex­er­cise, with only for­ward passes and scor­ing with head­ers.

Next, is a full work­out with the ball, the idea be­ing quick tran­si­tion from the back to at­tack.

Here, goal­keep­ers Boalefa Pule and Ron­wen Wil­liams come out tops, as they thwart at­tempt af­ter at­tempt.

But he oc­ca­sion­ally stops play as tack­les are fly­ing, with play­ers go­ing all out to im­press.

Sibu­siso Khu­malo is lucky to come out un­scathed af­ter col­lid­ing with a de­fender and Pule does well to stop Jeremy Brockie’s shot, which leaves him reel­ing in pain.

Lastly, they prac­tise set pieces. Here the likes of Brockie and Ejike Uzoenyi show their class, as the ball ends up in the back of the net.

Af­ter the ses­sion, Bax­ter is de­lighted and be­lieves his charges have quickly adapted to his tac­tics and coach­ing phi­los­o­phy.

The first time the English­man came to South Africa to coach Bafana in 2004, he con­ceded he knew noth­ing about the coun­try.

He left a year later, af­ter qual­i­fy­ing the na­tional team for the 2006 Africa Cup of Na­tions in Tu­nisia.

“I wanted to see what it was like to coach in South Africa,” said the for­mer Kaizer Chiefs coach, who won two league ti­tles and two cups in three sea­sons be­fore quit­ting Amakhosi last year.

When Chiefs had ear­lier come knock­ing at his door, he seized the op­por­tu­nity to prove his de­trac­tors wrong af­ter Bafana dumped him un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously. Bax­ter be­lieves he is wiser now. “What prob­a­bly at­tracted me is that I have a dif­fer­ent mis­sion now, be­cause this is a dif­fer­ent pro­ject. I am wiser now. I know the sup­port­ers’ be­hav­iour, the play­ers’ men­tal­ity and how the league is run – ba­si­cally the good and the bad of the league. I turned down a job at As­ton Villa in the [English Premier League] be­cause I love this coun­try and my fam­ily loves this coun­try. I en­joy work­ing with South African play­ers be­cause of their at­ti­tude.”

Bax­ter ap­pears des­tined to join the Tsh­wane side. He was first ap­proached by Su­per­Sport be­fore he joined Chiefs in 2012.

He needs to quickly turn United’s for­tunes around and be­lieves he is up to the chal­lenge.

“This job is go­ing to be in stages – first I need to get things right and make im­prove­ments; then we can ac­quire staff, but it doesn’t mean we can’t win any­thing. It doesn’t mean that want­ing a sen­si­ble ap­proach means we can’t win any­thing. The main thing now is to sta­bilise the sit­u­a­tion and put it on the right track – then we can start look­ing for­ward.”

Bax­ter does not want to dwell more on the past – be it Chiefs or Igesund.

“I just felt we had dif­fer­ent opin­ions [at Chiefs]. It is OK if ev­ery­body can’t see eye to eye but we didn’t see things the same way. I just felt the way things were go­ing, it was bet­ter for me to go. I didn’t want to get to a point where I told them to stick the job some­where.”

He de­scribes his Turk­ish ex­pe­ri­ence as a night­mare. Af­ter leav­ing Chiefs, he joined Gençler­bir­liği in Turkey but lasted only two games.

“Ev­ery­body warned me about the club pres­i­dent’s rep­u­ta­tion of fir­ing coaches, but I never ex­pected what hap­pened there. They have had four coaches since I left and that says a lot about the pres­i­dent, who is 84.”

Bax­ter did not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of raid­ing Chiefs’ play­ers in the off sea­son.

“If we had a cheque book like Bobby [Mo­taung’s] I’d be in­ter­ested. If Chiefs don’t make of­fers to the play­ers we want, many clubs in South Africa would be in­ter­ested, and Su­per­Sport would not be dif­fer­ent. The fact that I know the play­ers per­son­ally would be a bonus. We will mon­i­tor play­ers from other clubs as well, as we will have to re­in­force our side.”

Bax­ter said he did help his for­mer play­ers to play at clubs over­seas but was quick to add that he did not have any in­volve­ment in them want­ing to move away from Amakhosi.

“I wasn’t try­ing to lure them out of Chiefs to spite the club. What hap­pened was that Masha [Tefu Mashamaite] called to say his move to the US did not ma­te­ri­alise and, for­tu­nately, my for­mer as­sis­tant at Häls­ing­borg was look­ing for a de­fender, and I got them to­gether,” he ex­plained.


RE­TURN­ING GEN­ERAL Stu­art Bax­ter says he was al­ways des­tined to coach Su­per­Sport United

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