Stuart Baxter will begin his second spell in charge of Kaizer Chiefs with the biggest game of his career and the club’s history as they get ready to face Egyptian side Al Ahly in the final of the 2020-21 CAF Champions League. Baxter is looking ahead to the challenge against the defending African Champions and their coach Pitso Mosimane who he came up against five time in league games, during his first spell as Chiefs coach from May 2012 to June 2015. In those five clashes Baxter held the upper hand with two wins to Mosimane’s one while another two games ended in draws.
Baxter has been pleased with his team’s preparation for the final as well as their pre-final camp in the Limpopo province, where they spent a week getting ready for the game before jetting off to Morocco. As he explained further, “we started off in Polokwane where we had a good camp up there, worked on some of the basic principles that we needed to work on. As it got closer to the game the more detail we have got into. Given the time allotted and the conditions and the challenges that we have had the lads have done very well. They are as prepared as they can be”.
For Baxter who in his first spell as Chiefs coach had a 61% win average, it is now all about laying it out on the field against Al Ahly. “Of course, it is performing on the day it’s producing your normal performance, not one where you freeze and the day passes you by. I think if we do that, we have a chance. People will make Al Ahly favourites because they are expected to be here and we are not”.
While the new Chiefs coach has just had a few weeks to work with his charges he still feels that enough has been done to give a good account against Al Ahly, “Pitso Mosimane has had a year to work with his boys and we have had a month and a half. Of course, people will think that they are favourites, the boys don’t agree with that”.
With Chiefs having defied the odds to reach this point Baxter is positive ahead of the game, based on the fact that the team have played with no fear and are up for the challenge, “I think the players have shown a strong and positive mentality right from the word go I think the game will ebb and flow, I heard a comment by Gareth Southgate that the England team when they have bad periods they suffer together they stay a team”.
He is also under no illusions that the Egyptians will use their past experiences in big games to try and stretch Chiefs to their limit, but he has a solution to counter that. As he explained “of course there will be times against a team like Al Ahly where we will suffer and be stretched we get through that so that when we have a good patch we can hurt them I think that’s important. Staying together and making sure you a team in all aspects of the game”.
Chiefs though could be without some key player and Baxter did lament possibly not having them available, “we are missing the players that have got the long term injuries Lebogang Manyama, Khama Billiat, Leonardo Castro those are top players if we can get them on the field automatically we will have a bit more experience”.
With all the groundwork done he now returns to the Chiefs dug out for an 11th time in African Club Competitions, and the first time since the 9th May 2015 when Chiefs defeated Chippa United 2-0 in a league game on the final day of the 2014-15 season. On returning to the Chiefs dug out he said “I have probably worked as hard to acquaint myself with Al Ahly, I know my players well. Because we don’t have many options and choices to make the team virtually picks itself so we at the point what you got is what you go to go with”.
He will be looking to catch Al Ahly out with a surprise or two, “I have to go with gut feeling with the selection I have to go with what Pitso and his boys will least fancy us doing so all of that I think Pitso will be in the same boat, he will know little about this team because I have been here such a short time lets hope that we have one surprise in us”.
Baxter won four trophies with Chiefs in his first stint with the club and winning the CAF Champions League in his first spell with Amakhosi, will set him up in the best possible way for his second spell at the helm of the club.