Baxter’s burn-out angst

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Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter seen here during a training session in Naturena.

Johannesburg – The fear of player burn-out worries Stuart Baxter, so much so that he’s vowed to engage Gordon Igesund about the selection of several Kaizer Chiefs players for Bafana Bafana’s friendly against Malawi next week.

Igesund this week named seven Chiefs players in the squad who face Malawi’s Flames in Durban next Saturday, but Baxter, speaking on Wednesday, said he would seek talks with the national coach about how to handle the players.

The Amakhosi coach is worried that senior players such as Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Itumeleng Khune and Bernard Parker – who all have been part of Igesund’s squads since his appointment as Bafana coach in July – may have played too many games already and could do with a few days’ break before the national side assemble for a camp in preparation for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Strangely, Igesund did hand some 12 players this break, including junior internationals such as Chiefs’ Mulomowandau Mathoho and Orlando Pirates’ Andile Jali, asking them to miss the match against the 101st-ranked Malawi and report for training only on December 27.

“We will talk to the coach [Igesund] and the SA Football Association about this,” Baxter said on Wednesday. “We have to look at the bigger picture about loading the players with many games. Safa took our players to Poland and Kenya [in October] and we got them two days before we played Bidvest Wits in the Telkom Knockout. We are still feeling the effects of that even now because we have been walking a tightrope with Parker. He returned from that trip with an ankle problem and it’s because of fatigue and overuse.”

Emphasising that “there will be a discussion”, Baxter added that Chiefs were keen to release their players, although they are not obliged to do so as next week’s match does not fall under the official Fifa date. But it would seem unreasonable for Amakhosi to withhold the players when their last game is on December 19 and do not play another match until after the February 10 Nations Cup final.

“Basically, we do want our players in the national team all the time. We will give support wherever we can. But we have to look at the bigger picture. We have been told by Safa that they do not accept any responsibility for fitness or injuries. So in that case players have to be used with some common sense and respect,” Baxter reasoned.

But goalkeeper Khune said he had no problem fulfilling the fixture against Malawi in spite of the match coming three days before Christmas, and three after the final league fixtures of this year.

“It’s the national coach’s decision to call up the players he needs. At the end of the day I can’t refuse to go into a Bafana camp. As much as I need a rest, I have been called up to do duty for the country, and I have to go. There are a lot of players who wish to get an opportunity like this. In any case, we can’t underestimate Malawi. We have to use our strong side,” the Chiefs captain said.

Meanwhile, Baxter expects a tough encounter as Chiefs host rookies Pretoria University in Saturday’s Absa Premiership programme (Soccer City, 6pm). Tukkies have caused several upsets this season, with four of their five victories coming on the road.

“It will be difficult, for sure. Tuks are a well-organised, strong team. They have surprised a lot of people and we will make sure we play well against them. We have been top of the log since the start of the season and it’s very important that we stay there going into the Christmas recess.” – The Star


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