‘That question is so poor I just want to make a big yawn and walk away.’ This was Stuart Baxter’s response when I asked him on Thursday about his relatively poor tactics this year and team selection. Well, for those of you Kaizer Chiefs fans out there who were unfortunate enough to see the Nedbank Cup last 16 clash Chiefs played against Black Leopards this past Saturday, you now know why I asked Baxter that question.
When I got to the stadium and received the team sheet, I was stunned. We all know that his two regular full-backs Siboniso Gaxa and Tshepo Masilela were suspended for that game, so he could not play them. But to “rest” Itumeleng Khune, Tefu Mashamaite, Mulomowandau Mathoho, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, and Bernard Parker was something more shocking to me than Steven Gerrard’s 40 second cameo appearance against Manchester United. He had Siphiwe Tshabalala and George Lebese in the match eighteen, but they did not start. They had to spend just under an hour on the bench. Ok, the coach believes in rotation to keep his squad fresh, that’s fine. But with an international week coming, I think they would have had enough rest while we focus on Bafana Bafana for a while. Also, when they come back from the FIFA week, they are travelling to Morocco to face Raja Casablanca in the second leg of their Champions League match; a tie they are on the brink of losing. Logic dictates that he put everything he has into the Nedbank Cup, where he has a chance, rather than saving players for a match where he has the odds stacked heavily against him in.
Katlego Mphela was also not playing. Why??? He has been virtually resting for the entire season so he cannot possibly be resting him after starting just two games. This is a player who, at full fitness can make any defence look mediocre. You would have thought he could use that game time since Amakhosi are looking for a proven goal scorer. I have nothing against Reyaard Pieterse, but I thought Brilliant Khuzwayo is the guy alternating with Khune between the sticks. Is there a need to play three goalkeepers? I think not. Another such strange selection is that of Simphiwe Mtsweni at left-back ahead of Levy Mokgothu. The odd thing for me is that when Masilela is playing, Mokguthu is the guy deputising for him in that position. Now suddenly a guy third in the pecking order plays ahead of him. But I guess the final decision rests with Baxter, as he put it in the post-match presser, ‘… it’s my decision to make and I don’t have to explain it here, whether good or bad …’ His entire back four was a new one. Morgan Gould has been involved in more knockouts with players than he has played in, and was paired with Ivan Bukenya, who normally comes in at holding midfield position when Willard Katsande is out. Although Bukenya is naturally a centre-back, he has never played there for Chiefs and got caught on a couple of occasions. I am one guy that always stresses that you cannot win a tournament with inexperienced players. This right here, is proof positive. Kaizer Chiefs is a club that is actually known more as cup specialists than anything. It is common knowledge that they have won more trophies than any other club in South Africa. So as a coach it is absolutely criminal to have a half-hearted go at any cup match for this club, although he said ‘… I am embarrassed about the loss and finding it hard to swallow…’ As well he should because he underestimated a club that has never lost this year in the NFD, and has always given Chiefs problems. This by the way, is also what I put to him in that heated exchange we had on Thursday.
The truth is, Baxter is feeling the heat right now, with cracks starting to show again in his team as was the case last year. Yes, if you are going to be competing on all these fronts, you probably need to rotate your squad. But Chiefs do not have that luxury. Unlike Pirates and Sundowns, they do not have two ‘A’ teams so to speak. They have an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ team. That is not going to help him. This is why we questioned their buying policy at the beginning of the season, and again in the January window. Baxter is a good coach. One of the best we’ve seen in local football. But his team just can’t play the second half of the season. Even when they won the league two seasons ago, they were bad after the Christmas break. It’s just that the others were worse. Right now he seems to be running out of ideas and is on the brink of tactical bankruptcy. They are out of the Nedbank Cup, and look unlikely to progress in the Champions League. He will now have to win the league to prevent a faster collapse than that of the twin towers. But even if he does, I’m not too sure it will be enough to still see him at Chiefs next season. Hold on, it’s about to get real rocky.