JOHANNESBURG – A common rule of thumb in football, for players and managers alike, is that you never go back for a second spell at a football club or national team that you previously enjoyed success with.
The game is littered with examples of coaches and managers who ruined their reputations by returning to teams that they previously led to various degrees of success, only for things to go awry in the second spell, all but ruining the romanticism of the first.
Earlier this week, former Bafana Bafana mentor Stuart Baxter threw caution to the wind and officially sealed a two-year deal to rejoin a struggling Kaizer Chiefs side that last tasted silverware during Baxter’s first, three-season long spell in charge of the club from 2012 to 2015.
On his first arrival at Naturena in June 2012, Baxter found an Amakhosi outfit firmly in the shadow of their Soweto arch-rivals Orlando Pirates who had won back to back domestic trebles in the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons.
Chiefs were in need of reinvigoration but in his first game Baxter’s charges were dumped out of the MTN 8 competition 4-1 by Mamelodi Sundowns, as panic set in amongst the Amakhosi faithful.
However, Chiefs soon found their rhythm in the 2012/2013 league campaign and were devastating in their transition-based game en route to a first league crown since 2004/2005. They completed a double by bagging the Nedbank Cup in style at the end of that 2012/2013 campaign.
By the time he left the club at the end of his third season, an MTN 8 crown had been added in the early part of 2014/2015 season and the title triumph at the end of the campaign ensured another domestic double for the much travelled sexagenarian.
Baxter now returns to a much changed South African football landscape, with Chiefs barely making it into the top eight following a disastrous eight-month spell under Gavin Hunt, while Mamelodi Sundowns continue to entrench their status as the dominant force in the local game.
Similar to his first spell at Naturena, Baxter returns to a club whose fan base is starved of silverware. Although the club can sign players following a transfer ban, given their recent struggles and reportedly limited transfer budget, will Baxter’s new recruits be of the level needed to return Chiefs to the heady days of his first spell?
He will need to look no further than recently departed Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane to see the pitfalls of engaging in a second spell following a successful one.
With a team led by the unstoppable Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane’s Los Blancos won three Uefa Champions League crowns on the spin, a La Liga crown, two Uefa Super Cups and two Fifa Club World Cups from 2016 to 2018 before a surprising exit in May 2018.
He returned to Madrid’s hallowed Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in March 2019 and won a Spanish Super Cup and La Liga double in the 2019/2020 season. But it is the Champions League where Los Blancos managers are judged. Zizou, without Ronaldo’s goals, struggled in Europe’s premier club competition and jumped ship following a barren 2020/2021 season.
Perhaps a more horrifying example is that of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning manager. With Brazil playing host to the 2014 World Cup, “Big Phil” made the fateful decision to return to coaching his homeland’s national team 10 years after leading them to a fifth World Cup crown in Asia.
It ended in disgrace and a sea of tears as Brazil were embarrassingly dumped out of their home tournament in the semi-finals with a rampant Germany administering a ruthless 7-1 trouncing which ensured Scolari’s sad transformation from hero to villain in football-mad Brazil.
Baxter himself is no stranger to making a second return to a previous employer. In 2017 he took over Bafana’s World Cup qualification for Russia 2018 at the halfway stage following Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba’s sacking in December of the previous year. The ill-fated second coming of the England born Scotsman ended in failure to book a ticket to Vladimir Putin’s lair.
The now 67-year-old Baxter had first taken charge of Bafana in 2004. It panned out to be a two-year tenure that ended in disaster as South African football’s last golden generation of players, including Mbulelo Mabizela, Steven Pienaar, Quinton Fortune, Delron Buckley, Benni McCarthy, Sibusiso Zuma, Shaun Bartlett and Siyabonga Nomvethe failed to qualify for the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany.