Why Baxter’s way has worked
When Kaizer Chiefs first announced the appointment of Stuart Baxter, the decision was met with a great deal of scepticism.
Having failed to guide Bafana Bafana to the 2006 Fifa World Cup, many Chiefs fans predicted yet another season without the title of ‘PSL champions’ behind their name.
However, the Scot has more than proved his doubters wrong this season. From past interactions, I have found him to be deeply knowledgeable about the beautiful game. He’s a man open to sharing his footballing philosophies and equally having them challenged in a constructive manner.
That last point is most important as foreign coaches often attempt to change the very culture of our football. Having coached our national team, which I believe proved advantageous, Baxter realised the folly of changing Chiefs’ identity.
While he added organisation and structure to the side, he still allowed his players to express themselves in a South African way. Other foreign coaches can learn from Baxter’s blueprint.
I’ve been impressed with Chiefs’ movement in and out of space this season but to say that they won the title playing a European way would be flawed. People always ask me: What’s the best style of football to employ? I believe there’s only one - winning football.
Baxter understands that playing beautiful football isn’t always possible. Sometimes it’s necessary to employ a less attractive brand in order to grind out results.
While Cavin Johnson did an outstanding job guiding Platinum Stars to second place this season, I feel that’s the one lesson he can most learn from Chiefs’ success.
That said, I don’t want to give off the impression that South African coaches are in any way inferior to their foreign counterparts. That would be doing them a great injustice. I honestly don’t believe that our local coaches have an inferior tactical understanding. I feel it’s important not to put foreign coaches on a pedestal.
Yes, Baxter added great value this season and guided Chiefs to their first league title since 2005, but his technical team played an equally pivotal role.
Doctor Khumalo has grown into his role as Amakhosi’s assistant coach and I agree with what he said when Baxter was suspended. He pointed out that he worked with Baxter rather than for him. That is a crucial distinction, as Doc is certainly no ball boy.
I believe that his input this season has been a key part of Chiefs’ success. Having played for the club for many years, no one has a better understanding of the culture than he does. ’16 Valve’ is a figurehead of South African football and as such, when he talks, the players listen.
With Baxter’s pragmatism and Khumalo’s flair, I believe Chiefs have found a winning combination off the field.
All the best sides in world football have technical teams that complement yet challenge on another. That was certainly the case when Miguel Gamondi and I guided Sundowns to league glory in 2006. We bounced ideas off each other and worked well together.
However, most crucially, as a South African I understood the players’ mentality and knew how to pick them up when they were down. What many foreign coaches don’t realise is that screaming at shouting at local players isn’t effective.
While that approach may work in Europe, I have found that our players respond best to a degree of discipline infused with a strong dose of praise.
The best football managers have a good understanding of each of their players’ psychology. As a coach, you learn what works and what doesn’t and you get wiser with age and experience.
While I believe that foreign coaches do add value to our league, in my opinion they are not the long-term solution.
It’s time our football bosses back more local managers to succeed by affording them the same support their foreign colleagues enjoy.
Baxter deserves to bask in the glory but let’s not forget the fine local managers we produce. Chiefs' opponents for this Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final are coached by none other than Gavin Hunt – a three-time PSL winner.