Stuart Baxter did his best to remain calm as the question of Njabulo Ngcobo’s benching at Kaizer Chiefs became the main focus of Thursday’s media conference.
Ngcobo, who was voted defender of the season last term in the PSL, is the only one of the Amakhosi new players who has not made a debut yet. And judging by Baxter’s words, that is not going to happen anytime soon.
Baxter came short of just putting it out there that he doesn’t care what supporters and critics say about his exclusion of the former Swallows defender. The Brit said he doesn’t know Ngcobo because he was not here last season, when Ngcobo won the DStv Premiership Defender of the Season at Swallows FC.
“Of course, I didn’t see him play last year. I wasn’t in South Africa. So, he’s a new player to me and I’m a new coach to him, his teammates are new. We are hoping that we get him up to speed very quickly and have him as a completely integrated player,” said Baxter.
“That process doesn’t … last two or three minutes, that’s why until we feel it is 100%, we are not going to be rushing him. He deserves that, he’s a good player, but he deserves that time to get himself adjusted to the way we play,” said Baxter.
Yet of all the Chiefs players, excluding those that were there in his first stint, it is only Cole Alexander that Baxter can say he knows properly. He had never seen Phathutshedzo Nange before but he has become a prominent player in the Amakhosi setup.
“The reason (for Ngcobo not starting) is that I had never seen him before. You talk about last season, I didn’t see one minute of last season, so the first minute I saw him was when I walked through the gate at Naturena.
“Njabulo is obviously going to have to make himself known to me, and me to him, for us to work together and see how quickly we can get him in. We had virtually no pre-season. We had, I think, one practice game, so therefore he’s had very little chance to make a lasting impression.
“He’s done very well in training, as has Austin (Dube) and at the moment it’s a question of trying to ease them both into the scheme of things. If you throw them in the deep end then you may break their chances of establishing themselves.,” added Baxter, though Dube did start in a back three in Sunday’s loss to Mamelodi Sundowns.
“The way to bring them in is to bring them into a stable environment where everybody knows their role and not just shooting from the hip. I think it’s maybe more accepted here to just throw people in but that’s far away from being the correct way to do it.”
“I’m sure Njabulo will appreciate it when he gets his chance that he’ll go in knowing what to do, being able to give a performance, instead of being thrown into a backline that he’s not familiar with and that he’s not had any practice with, apart from a few training sessions. Both he and Austin are understanding that situation.”