Willard’s journey from villain to hero

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iol spt mar17 Katsande Gallo Images Chiefs boss Baxter has praised Soweto Derby hero Willard Katsande, who has gone from villain to hero. Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

The “reckless” player who scored in the Soweto Derby on Saturday may not have been on the pitch to head home the winner had Kaizer Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter decided to release him last season.

Baxter admitted he was not too sure Soweto Derby hero Willard Katsande would play for Amakhosi “because he was reckless”, but after the holding midfielder headed home to bag three points against Orlando Pirates here on Saturday, the coach reserved special praise for the Zimbabwean who has gone from reckless to sublime.

Katsande, named Man of the Match, was outstanding in midfield as he blunted the Pirates’ attack. And his goal which got their title race back on track was just an added bonus to a colossal performance which showed how much he has matured.

“The first week at the club I watched Willard playing and I said to Doc (Doctor Khumalo) I am not sure if he can play for us because I think he is so reckless. Honestly I did, and I told him I love your physicality, but it has to be under control and it was very often as you guys know, not under control.

“He has done a fantastic job working on his game to bring that under control. And then you get the technical side of his play that people forget. He is not a bad player. His contribution was immense today. He broke up so much of Pirates play that he was almost like a one-man defence at times. If we didn’t have him it could have been a different game today. He has played some good games for us, but that was probably one of his best.”

Katsande’s goal triggered off huge celebrations on the away side’s bench after that 2-0 defeat to Platinum Stars last Wednesday. Baxter punched the air at the sound of the final whistle and turned to assistant Doctor Khumalo to give him a big hug.

It was Baxter’s first derby victory outside of the pre-season Black Label Cup and he admitted he feared his players would choke after the defeat to Dikwena.

“We lost against Platinum (Stars), so it makes the derby a massive game. Every derby, when you win, it feels like you have won the league. Plus I was fearing they may choke physically or mentally.

“It feels like more than just the three points. So yes, I was delighted as you probably noticed.

“Pirates played well with their possession of the ball in the first half and we did not, so I thought the players did a fantastic job in the second half because it was a disciplined effort. I am pleased with the three points.”

Defeat to Pirates, Baxter feels, would have put Amakhosi under a lot of pressure ahead of their clash with Ajax Cape Town at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Wednesday. With the CAF Champions League a distraction, Amakhosi need to stay consistent in the league, and it’s victories such as the one against the Buccaneers that has given them a huge boost.

“Every defeat, when you are a top club, puts more pressure on the next game. And defeat (on Saturday) would have put enormous pressure on us going into our game against Ajax,” the former Bafana Bafana coach said.

Chiefs finished the weekend six points clear at the summit.

After playing Ajax on Wednesday, they travel to the DRC for a CAF Champions League clash against AS Vita before returning to face FC Buffalo in the Nedbank Cup. - The Star



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