NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 18: Stuart Baxter of Chiefs celebrates during the Absa Premiership match between University of Pretoria and Kaizer Chiefs at Mbombela Stadium on May 18, 2013 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images)

Johannesburg – More than a year ago, Kaizer Motaung made a decision that took many by surprise. It was towards the end of the 2011/2012 season, with Kaizer Chiefs almost out of the title race but still in with a chance to win the Nedbank Cup.

Out of the blue, he dramatically fired then Chiefs coach Vladimir Vermezovic, announcing the Serb would leave Naturena immediately as Doctor Khumalo and Ace Khuse took charge to complete the season.

In the Mbombela Stadium pressroom on Saturday, with Motaung having just seen his team crowned the Absa Premiership champions, the Chiefs supremo stated the celebrations were as a result of his unpopular decision to axe Vermezovic in April 2012.

“At that time we decided to take stock of where we were and where we were going. We then made changes late in the season. The coach we had at the time was young, and we thought he would stay for a long time. But the demands of this club were just too big for him. This is a big team and a big brand,” Motaung said.

“After we acted we were criticised, but whether you make a good or bad decision, you will get criticised. I know that because I’ve been long in this game.”

The criticism of Motaung didn’t end with the departure of Vermezovic. His successor, Stuart Baxter, drew even louder howls of derision among the Amakhosi faithful, who could not trust a man who they saw as a failed Bafana coach.

At the weekend, they were chanting Baxter’s name as they celebrated a first championship since 2005, the Briton having answered all his critics by becoming the first foreign coach to clinch the premiership in his first season. He could complete a double in this weekend’s Nedbank Cup final against SuperSport.

Motaung, too, has been in awe of Baxter’s success.

“Stuart deserves the credit. His stewardship of this team has been incredible.”

Baxter was helped in the main by Motaung’s decision to get out the chequebook at the beginning of the season, allowing him to recruit the likes of Morgan Gould, Erick Mathoho, Siboniso Gaxa and Tsepo Masilela, who all played a pivotal role in Chiefs’ success.

“It was important to win this trophy because it’s been a long time – eight years. Most of these players were winning it for the first time. I think of the players who are here, only Kaizer (junior) was there when we last won it (actually, Itumeleng Khune was also in the Chiefs set up but was hardly in the first team).

“These players have now created their own history. They won’t be remembered as chokers like the ones before them.”

Motaung has now set his sights on the African Champions League, refuting claims Chiefs would give the competition a miss after they were banned by the Confederation of African Football several years ago for failing to fulfil a fixture.

“I don’t know where this thing is coming from, that we may not take part in the Champions League. It’s pure speculation. When we pulled out (in 2005) it was because of security considerations. We had to decide whether to risk the lives of players by taking them to a place which was unsafe.”

Chiefs first took part in the Champions League in 1993, but Motaung says problems experienced then still prevail today. “You saw what happened to Orlando Pirates in the DR Congo. When we first took part in this competition, there were no sponsors and it was difficult to travel around. This is why we at the PSL decided that we will contribute R1-million to teams that are participating.”

Motaung also feels Caf should adjust their calendar from February to November to August-May, although he did point out that when Pirates won the Champions League in 1995, the South African season actually ran alongside the Caf calendar. “About 14 leagues in Africa use our calendar (August to May). Maybe Caf should consider changing because we are going to have problems registering players.

“When we won the African Cup Winners Cup in 2001, we had 14 players for two legs.” – The Star