There’s no denying that Stuart Baxter is a charming man. Having been named Kaizer Chiefs coach on Monday, as had been expected, Baxter spent this week selling himself to the club’s fans, hopping from interview to interview telling all and sundry why he’s the right man for the job.
He took time to travel to Polokwane to watch Chiefs’ Absa Premiership against Ajax Cape Town, television cameras at Peter Mokaba Stadium picking him dressed elegantly in a grey suit while taking down notes.
That sight alone may have been enough for Amakhosi fans who had expressed reservations about Baxter’s hiring to immediately warm to his regime, but even more convincing will have been his appearance on a SuperSport television programme on Thursday. There, Baxter’s charm offensive was evident, and by the time the interview had finished, social media was littered with stories of previously antagonistic fans who’d been converted to accept the new Chiefs coach as a messiah. “I like this Baxter” and “Give him a chance” became the mantra, replacing the howling and doubts which had greeted Kaizer Motaung’s unveiling of his new coach three days earlier.
This simply is an indication of Baxter’s persuasive powers. Well-spoken and articulate, he can turn even the most sceptical of persons into an instant believer. But then Baxter, as seen this week in an interview he conducted with my colleague Jonty Mark, can also be economical with the truth. He stated, among others, that following his departure from the Bafana Bafana coaching position in late 2005, he “won the league title” with Japanese club Vissel Kobe. It turns out that he only won this club promotion via the play-offs, after finishing third.
This was not the only blatant untruth in Baxter’s interview with our colleague. He peddled several other falsehoods, boldly declaring that he had led Swedish side Helsingborg to the last 16 of the Europa League in 2007, only for a quick internet search to confirm that his team had actually not made it past the last 32 round, losing hopelessly to PSV Eindhoven.
What is puzzling is that this “Europa League last 16” falsehood made it into the official Chiefs statement that confirmed Baxter’s hiring, which proves that he must have listed it among his achievements on his CV. While we may not have been part of the Chiefs panel that recruited Baxter, his misrepresentations should be viewed in serious light by the powers that be at Naturena.
Interestingly, Chiefs owner Kaizer Motaung commented this week that Baxter reminded him of Jeff Butler, who was highly successful with the club in the late 1980s and early ’90s. But surely Motaung, when making that comparison, couldn’t have had in mind the controversy that saw Butler lose out on the Bafana coaching job following revelations that he had embellished parts of his CV.
There’s little chance Motaung would reverse his decision, as Baxter’s two-year contract has been signed and sealed. In any case, the Chiefs supremo rarely concedes he’s wrong when it comes to hiring coaches, hence not one has ever failed to finish a season at Naturena, even though only Ted Dumitru has brought them league title success in the PSL era.
Baxter, in spite of his poor record even at Bafana, is clearly held in high regard by Motaung, who described him thus: “His wealth of experience gained from coaching in different environments puts him in good standing to ascend the list of other bidders for the coaching assignment.”
However, Baxter could yet be exposed as a smooth talker rather than an excellent coach. No great coach would see the need to list achievements which they clearly know they didn’t get. Perhaps Baxter used the same modus operandi to warm himself in the hearts of Safa bosses all those years ago. This time however, should he not hit the ground running at Chiefs, his regime could be off to a false start. He has a lot to prove, literally.
*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng