Stuart Baxter has signed a two-year contract with the Hero Indian Super League club Odisha FC and will be taking over the reins from former head coach Josep Gombau next season onwards. Baxter has managed the England Under-19, South Africa and Finland national teams previously and has a vast managerial experience of over 25 years in eight different countries. Alongside this, the 66-year-old has experience of managing clubs in Asia, having coached Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vissel Kobe in Japan’s J1 League previously. This will be his first stint in India.
Odisha FC had a relatively successful inaugural season in the 2019-20 edition of the Hero Indian Super League, considering they had to play their first four games away from home and had to be content with playing in Pune for their first two home games. Their stadium in Bhubaneswar wasn’t ready on time and that had a substantial impact on their maiden campaign.
Under former head coach Gombau, Odisha played attacking football with an emphasis on keeping possession and playing from the back. Gombau seemed fastidious on getting things right in the attacking scope and encouraged young Indian talent to come through the ranks. They narrowly missed out on the top four and finished sixth in the league. It seemed like more or less a successful maiden stint considering their counterparts Hyderabad FC, another club debuting in 2019-20, finished last in the table with the worst-ever record in the league. However, Gombau and the club parted ways at the end of the season due to the coach’s familial obligations.
Stuart Baxter’s father Bill Baxter was a coach at Aston Villa. Baxter was born in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom and was an astute midfielder during his playing days. He began his career with Preston North End before going on to represent various clubs in England, Scotland, Australia, Sweden and America. In 226 senior appearances throughout his career, Baxter managed to find the back of the net 97 times. While playing for South Melbourne FC in the Australian A-League, Baxter was called up to train with the Australian national squad. However, due to citizenship issues, he had to withdraw from the team before an official friendly match.
The Englishman’s coaching career started back in 1985 with Swedish club Örebro SK’s youth team, while his first role in senior management came with Norway’s Idrettsforeningen Skarp, followed by a brief stint with Vitória Setubal in Portugal. He soon returned to Sweden with Halmstads BK and had a three-year stint with the team. He helped them gain promotion in his first season but the club was relegated at the end of his tenure.
He soon moved on to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, winning the J1 League title with the club. His love for the Japanese league didn’t stop there as in 1995, he signed for Vissel Kobe. In 1998, he returned again to Sweden with AIK and went on to win the league championship as well as the Swedish Cup. Added to this, he helped the team qualify for the UEFA Champions League where they played some of Europe’s best clubs in Arsenal, Barcelona and Fiorentina in the group stages.
In 2002, Stuart Baxter was hired by the English Football Association to coach the England Under-19 team, where he spent a couple of years. Baxter’s stellar resume boasts of managing national teams like South Africa and Finland. In his second stint with South Africa, his team beat Mohamed Salah’s Egypt and progressed into the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations in 2019.
In 2020, Baxter will have his first taste of Indian football and the Englishman is excited about this project. He has insisted that he doesn’t want to impose his philosophy on the players but rather wants to understand his squad and adapt his tactics. It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll fare in the 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League season.
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