Johannesburg – The minefield that is coaching a Soweto giant is never easy to negotiate, but for now both Stuart Baxter and Roger De Sa have tiptoed their way through with plenty of success.
Neither Baxter nor De Sa were popular choices when they came in, Baxter ahead of the 2012/13 season and De Sa, just one month or so in.
Baxter arrived with the baggage of a failed spell at the helm of Bafana Bafana, while De Sa had just been sacked by Bidvest Wits, a job in any case a long way from the kind of high pressure stakes at Pirates.
Baxter went on to take out a fair sledgehammer to his critics, winning the league and cup double at his first time of asking in the South African domestic game. De Sa, on the other hand, won nothing last season, a far cry from Pirates’ extraordinary “double treble” successes between 2010 and 2012. His time at the top at Pirates still appeared tenuous.
But the Pirates coach sweetened the mixture by taking the Buccaneers into the group stages of the CAF Champions League. And he and assistants Eric Tinkler and Tebogo Moloi have continued to show off their continental acumen, with Pirates somehow negotiating a path to the final, where they will take on Egyptian giants Al Ahly in the next couple of weeks.
Instead of criticising their coach, Pirates fans have begun to regale him, albeit with the rather cheesy nickname “Roger De Star”.
This success has also silenced those Bucs fans still aggrieved by a lack of domestic glory, which continued this season as Pirates lost out to Platinum Stars in the final of the MTN8.
This result was further tempered by the fact that Pirates took out bitter rivals Amakhosi in the semi-finals of the same tournament. It is wrong to say that if a coach wins the derby, all is forgiven, but it certainly helps. And this leads us nicely into the game on Saturday, as Chiefs and Pirates face off at FNB Stadium in the first Absa Premiership Soweto derby of the season.
Thus far, there is very little between Baxter and De Sa in terms of the derby. Last season, the two league encounters ended in draws, 1-1 in December and 0-0 in March, though it was Chiefs that could claim a moral victory, given that they went on to lift the title for the first time since 2005.
This season, a brilliant Daine Klate free kick gave Pirates the edge in the first leg of the MTN8 semi-final, while the second leg was another draw, a Lennox Bacela penalty cancelling out Bernard Parker’s first half strike, and giving Pirates a place in the final.
Just five goals in the four derbies played between these two coaches might point on face value at rather dull tactical attitudes from Baxter and De Sa. Yet the goals do not actually paint a completely accurate picture of often exhilarating encounters, with missed chances and fine goalkeeping more prominent than any lack of attacking endeavour.
Ironically, given his success last season, it is Baxter who is perhaps under more pressure than De Sa going into this game, with Chiefs having lost the MTN8 semi-final, and having not quite reproduced this season the free-flowing football of 2012/13.
While Chiefs were rather fortunate to scrape past Free State Stars and into the semi-finals of the Telkom Knockout in their last match, Pirates came back from continental glory in Tunis to dismantle Golden Arrows on Wednesday night.
Could it be that if last season belonged to Baxter, this one will end up firmly in the grasp of De Sa?
Stuart Baxter v Roger De Sa in the Soweto derby
December 8, 2012, FNB Stadium
Orlando Pirates 1 (Mbesuma 21)
Kaizer Chiefs 1 (Majoro 59)
March 9, 2013, FNB Stadium
Kaizer Chiefs 0 Orlando Pirates 0
Semi-final, first leg, August 24,
2013, FNB Stadium
Kaizer Chiefs 0
Orlando Pirates 1 (Klate 12)
Semi-final, second leg, Sept 24
2013, Orlando Stadium
Orlando Pirates 1 (Bacela 76pen)
Kaizer Chiefs 1 (Parker 36)