Johannesburg – Stuart Baxter has hit out at the state of many of South Africa’s World Cup football pitches, lambasting the surfaces from Cape Town to Polokwane as a poor advertisement for the national game.
Baxter and Kaizer Chiefs have had more experience than most of the state of surfaces up and down the country of late. Chiefs were forced to play Black Leopards in the old Peter Mokaba Stadium on February 20, so much in disrepair is the field at the new stadium.
Chiefs also beat Bidvest Wits 3-0 in the Nedbank Cup on Saturday night on the beach-like surface of Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, and will host them again in the Absa Premiership this Saturday at FNB Stadium.
Chiefs’ home ground, the country’s national soccer stadium, is another that has come under fierce criticism, with the pitch clearly suffering from its multi-purpose use.
“We had a World Cup here and it was marvellous for South Africa, and the stadiums and pitches were admired by everyone,” said Baxter yesterday at the Kaizer Chiefs village.
“Now we still have the stadiums, but the pitches we are delivering in our home league should come under all sorts of criticism.
“You go to Cape Town, that one’s falling to pieces. The FNB Stadium was not a football pitch for a while. We went up to Polokwane and had to play on the old pitch, because the new pitch is full of holes.
“And then, the one now (in Nelspruit) had no grass on it. It had some plastic punched into it, and some green sand. Apart from that it wasn’t a football pitch really.
“I am loath to criticise too much, it sounds like it may be an excuse, but in light of the fact that we won 3-0 on that pitch and we have won at FNB, I think I can criticise.
“We will get on with it and meet the challenges the best we can. But for South African football, if we are trying to produce a product that we are exporting, where people see these games around the world, when people see the product they are looking at the pitches, and the quality of play is also affected.
“If we are serious about exporting the product that is South African football, we can’t just let the pitches in the country go to rack and ruin.”
It will be fascinating, meanwhile, to see if the Chiefs coach keeps the same tactics he used to beat the Clever Boys just a few days ago when the two sides face up on Saturday night.
Baxter, looking to give some regulars a rest, opted for a five-man defence with flying wing-backs, and it was a move that paid off with a resounding victory.
Chiefs, however, have also been perfectly successful in a more trademark 4-4-2 formation, and are currently two points clear of Orlando Pirates at the top of the table.
“We had two sessions to do a bit of work on it (the 5-3-2) and I was wondering if I should do it. If we had lost that game, and we went out, I would have been killed. I decided to do it because it was the right thing to do,” said Baxter.
“It gave us an opportunity to rotate the squad a bit and try something that we can maybe have with us to use in the future, something that gives people a feeling of ‘what are they going to do?’
“It is a question of which game suits what formation – if the opposition have one or two strikers, what injuries we have. It gives us an option.” – The Star