Baxter : Intrigue in Africa
It could be straight out of the pages of a James Bond novel.
Doctored photographs, mysterious noises on phone lines, whisper campaigns conducted by powerful brokers....its all there.
But this isnt a story of international espionage.
This is the story of a Wolves fan abroad that many think should be in charge at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Stuart Baxter is a former England U19 coach and holds the worlds highest UEFA coaching acreditation.He can count on Sven and Arsene Wenger as referee and he is also a lifelong Wolves fan. His father, Bill Baxter, was a Wanderers player in the fifties.
After being appointed South Africa's 11th Head Coach in 12 years he may have had an inkling of what was to come when he read the morning papers.
'Just who is this palooka?' read one headline. That was as good as it was going to get
When he was first offered the coaching poasition in 2004, Man Utd Assistant Carlos Queroz said to him ''If you can put food on the table, don't take it.'
He should have listened. After a poor run of results Baxter resigned in December 2005. By that point South Africa hadn't won in 9 matches.
Initially, he enjoyed success with the hosts of the 2010 World Cup, taking Bafana Bafana to the top of their Germany 06 qualifying group by 3 points.
But failure to win in their last 3 qualifying fixtures saw their campaign stumble, and Stuart Baxters days were finally numbered.
Some sections of the South African media had already been extremely harsh in their treatment of Baxter before they failed to qualify.
One newspaper superimposed his head into a group of religious fanatics, and labelled him a racist. Pretty soon every black journalist in South Africa believed it.
On advice, Baxter chose not to purue the libel in court, but was extremely tempted. South African justice would take seven years to be meted out though, and the counsel he recieved told him it would be a pointless action. The damage had been done.
Throughout his tenure there had been constant attention paid to his team selections. The South African FA wanted their say in his choices, as did the rich owners of the football clubs.
He was constantly fed rumours about squad members with drink problems by people with financial interests in other players, which led him to ask in an interview 'Should the long-term interests of South Africa's national game be sacrificed on the altar of short-term personal enrichment?'
Not a popular point of view amongst the power brokers.
He also believes that during this period his 'phone was bugged.
Early in his term, Baxter was asked if it had lived up to his expectations. He said 'Very much so, but I was very much prepared for the complexities of the job.'
In the same way that I am prepared for a nuclear strike.
I have a fair idea of what the big picture is, but the fine details about the devastation I'm a bit hazy on.
If the England job is a poisoned chalice, then Bafana Bafana must be the bottle the poison comes in.
Expectation is unrealistically high, more than any England fan could ever be accused of harbouring, and that creates a huge headache for every national coach.
South Africa's narcissistic view of its footballing talents makes it next to impossible to live up to their dreams, as the Englishman became painfully aware.
'One of the problems is they think they are much better than they really are,'
'They think the world champions (Brazil) are the only ones above them. It is the same at club level. Ask a Kaizer Chiefs fan how they would do against Juventus and they'd say they'd win 3-0. The trouble is there is nothing there.'
Stuart Baxter is currently in charge of Vissel Kobe in Japan, something he calls 'mental rehab'. A little older, and much,much wiser man. And don't bet on him never taking charge of a team in England.
If he ever does move home, whoever signs him will be getting an incredibly talented coach.
With the right structure, and with decent backing he could make big waves for whichever club is prepared to give him the free reign to build them a squad.
If at some point that's Wolves, all the better
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