|No going Baxter: Chiefs double-winning coach Stuart|
AFTER his "once upon a time" start, the Stuart Baxter fairy-tale is only just getting underway.
After a season which sees Sir Alex Ferguson bow out at 71 with the English Premier League title under his belt and Jupp Heynckes leave Bayern Munich at 68 with the Bundesliga and Champions League wrapped up, an end-of-era atmosphere pervades large swathes of football-speaking Europe.
But in South Africa, the 58-year-old Baxter from Wolverhampton will not be thrown to the wolves.
Last night, as he picked up Coach of the Season at the PSL awards, Baxter said: "There was pressure at Kaizer Chiefs, a big club without a trophy for so long. But it's been great.
"Thank you to the fans who stuck with the team, the chairman, who has been an inspiration. And to those people who don't get the credit, the people who cut the grass, wash the kit, make the food, we must thank them too."
With our initial misgivings about the former Bafana Bafana boss now firmly thrust aside by Kaizer Chiefs double success in an historic first season, minds were turning to the future of the AmaKhosi within hours of the gritty 1-0 extra-time Nedbank Cup success over SuperSport United.
The roars of the 51,200 at Moses Mabhida had barely died down when "Reclaiming the Glory" turned to "The Glory Continues" - with the Motaung family seeking to secure "Baxter to the future" success for South Africa’s biggest club, with a reputed 15million pilgrims turning the nation’s streets to miles of of black and gold smiles.
Baxter says: “I didn’t want to talk to much about the future until after the Cup final. But the plans are in place.
“Firstly, we have produced a CD which will go out to junior clubs around the country. This will explain how Kaizer Chiefs youngsters are formed, what the club expects, how a promising kid might play for the Amakhosi. We want to develop a Chiefs style of play, universally.
“Then we have the new academy all planned out. We will be breaking ground over the road from Naturena soon. Two pitches, an academy building. All the plans are in place, I'll send you an invite!”
In England, the Cliff is Liverpool’s hallowed production line, for Manchester United it’s Carrington. Arsenal have London Colney, Chelsea recently built an expensive facility at Cobham.
Now for Naturena Too. Baxter promises: “We have nutritionists to ensure our players – current and future – stick to the correct diet. It’s so important in modern football.
“Everybody needs a sports psychologist these days too. This is a top-ranked, professional football club. We will offer counselling and advice to our players, young and old. That is vital too.
“We have also put an academic programme in place with a local university. We want our players to learn, not just play football. That’s is the way ahead.
“I know there have been problems with academies in South Africa before (both Chiefs and Pirates junior set-ups have been disbanded due to age-cheating allegations) but we have to plan for the future.
“I said when I got here, development would be crucial. That I would involved myself in all aspects of Kaizer Chiefs. We’ve won the league and the cup in my first season. But I have been working on these plans for years.”
Just in case that sounds like hot air, how about this from Aaron “Mbazo” Mokoena, the man Baxter appointed as his Bafana Bafana captain during his all-too-brief tenure a decade ago?
Mokoena told me: “Stuart has had plans to develop South African footballers for years. SAFA didn’t give him the chance ten years ago. Now he will get the opportunity to put his development programme in place at Chiefs.
“I’ve always been a Baxter fan. You just watch him now he's achieve success.”
We will. Baxter has won us over on the pitch this season, surviving a difficult run-in to claim the PSL and seeing of Gavin Hunt’s tenacious SuperSport in Durban on Saturday.
After the game, Baxter grinned: "You come to a club and win the double in your first year? It's incredible and I'm immensely proud of my players.
"If someone had told me at the start of the season we would win the double I'd ask them what how much they were drinking?
"But remember, we start from scratch next season. We won't be champions of anything if we get beaten 3-0 every week!
"We'll try to repeat this year obviously, that’s what we have to do.”
Impressive stuff. Now Baxter gets the chance to impress OFF the field. I’ll keep you posted on just how successful he is. Happy ever after would be some epitaph.