News of Kaizer Chiefs parting ways with coach Stuart Baxter last Thursday, as broken by Soccer Laduma’s Siyagobhoza crew, almost shattered the internet thanks to the interest it had caught. To say most of the club’s supporters were excited about the news would be breaking with the tradition that is this publication’s mantra of “telling it like it is”.
This was even before the club could make any official announcement, which is a position no club wants to find themselves in. In fact, no one wants to be beaten to their own story as it is always best to tell it, from your own perspective, first so that everyone else feeds off your narrative. By the time Chiefs confirmed the news on their official website and social media pages that evening, it had already been a talk of the town, with a number of radio stations discussing it.
Is firing Baxter the solution to Chiefs’ well-documented struggles and trophy drought? This is the man who was entrusted with the responsibility of turning things around for the Naturena-based club when he signed a contract until 2023, with an option to extend for a further two years. That looked like a long-term plan and vision from both parties, but things went pear-shaped before he could even finish the first term of his second spell at the Naturena-based club. Baxter’s return was on the back of an eight-month period where coach Gavin Hunt was in charge of Amakhosi, although he was prohibited from signing players due to a FIFA sanction. The Englishman has managed 11 wins, six draws and six losses from the 23 league games played prior to his departure and he came highly recommended and was expected to do better than his predecessor. He lost out in the MTN8 first round through penalties against Mamelodi Sundowns and saw his charges dumped out of the Nedbank Cup by TS Galaxy in the Last 32.
Baxter’s departure simply means Chiefs have had six coaches in the past seven years! That’s a staggering figure for any ambitious club. However, what we cannot dispute is the simple fact that things have not been going well for Amakhosi. That they are closing in on a decade since they last lifted a trophy should be a serious concern for any self-loving Amakhosi associate. This is a club that is renowned for supporting their coaches and giving them ample time to execute their plans, but with the recent huge turnaround of coaches, you start wondering whether the club pushed the panic button too soon or whether they were right to bring in a new coach every now and then? Once again, is firing Baxter the solution to the club’s woes?
It is definitely un-Kaizer Chiefs-like to go this long without any silverware and, at the rate things are going, they don’t seem to be anywhere near getting that monkey off their back anytime soon, which should further worry everyone associated with the club even more. The club made interesting changes in management and the technical team recently. The club has also signed a number of players over the last couple of years, most of which were signed at the head coach’s request. You’ll remember that coach Hunt signed a few of his own players, only to meet them on his way to the exit door as they were making their way into the Naturena base. They never really got to work together at Chiefs and coach Baxter had to inherit some of those players upon his arrival. With that said, it simply means coach Hunt didn’t get to utilise the players he had identified and planned around to take Chiefs to the next level. By the same token, coach Baxter wouldn’t have got all the players he would have liked because the team had already spent so much on the market. Can you see how compromised the two coaches and their circumstances were? One coach missed out on working with his preferred players, while the other one had to inherit players he probably wouldn’t have even considered to sign, from his predecessor.
That’s where the questions about some players not getting a chance or played in wrong positions come in because clearly the two coaches were on completely different pages, which is only fair and natural. The bottom line is, whenever there are constant coaching changes, it is the club that suffers. The more coaches you change, the further you are from any success. Stability in the technical team is core and can’t be over-emphasized. Having said that, there’s a fine line between banging your head against the wall without looking for the window and being patient enough to think that door will eventually open. It is a tricky balancing act that Chiefs management would have certainly gone through, but the frustration, as clearly demonstrated by a section of the team’s supporters, was slowly getting out of hand because, once again, it is unlike this big institution to go so long without ascending the podium. Maybe it is time our teams, especially big teams like Chiefs, went back to their identity where, regardless of who the head coach is, the identity and profile of the players recruited by the team would be the same. Where it is more about the identity rather than the individual players.
There are so many players that aren’t Chiefs material that were signed by the coaches through the management’s unconditional support, even against the management’s wisdom. The proof is in the pudding because you can put a starting line-up of players who were signed but never had an impact at Chiefs in recent history. Once again, that is not like Chiefs because only a select few are privileged enough to don that famous Black and Gold jersey. Some players were so scared of the prestige of that jersey that they turned down a move to Naturena because they didn’t feel worthy of being part of that institution. These days, every Tom, Dick and Harry fancy themselves as Chiefs material and that can only point to one thing, and one thing only, that the club has dropped its standards! Maybe it is time Chiefs were clear about their mandate to their next coach and their plans, vision and ambitions so that the supporters can align their expectations accordingly. If the club is about rebuilding, let it be known by the supporters so that they don’t expect to see a fully-fledged team that they want to see dominating the league when they should be supporting the rebuilding phase of the team. Maybe that will lessen the coaching merry-go-round and ensure that everyone is on the same page, which is clearly not the case now. That’s the last thing a big team like Chiefs need.
Until all of the above has been sorted out, firing Baxter may just prove not to be the solution to the club’s trophy drought and lack of identity. A clear map, going forward, will definitely bring about positive vibes and common understanding among everyone associated with this big brand. If that is not done, then the coaching merry-go-round will continue and the team will continue to be a laughing stock and a sleeping giant of South African football.
All the best to coach Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard. You’ve done this before and everyone believes you can do it again. Push for the management to look no further and give you a chance to write your own history. If the likes of Pep Guardiola, Zinedine Zidane and Andre Pirlo, to mention just a few, could do it, why not you? There are only six league games left to make your mark and we all believe you will grab this special opportunity with both hands.