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Baxter to blame for Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Ngcobo's career stagnation?

10:24 GMT+3 26/11/2021
Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Kaizer Chiefs, January 2021
The Pietermaritzburg-born playmaker has tasted only 208 minutes of league action for the Glamour Boys this season

After a breakthrough 2020/ 21, Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Nkosingiphile Ngcobo would eagerly have been looking to push on in the new season.

Ngcobo was one of the players last season who took advantage of the club's transfer ban and went on to excel for Chiefs under previous coach Gavin Hunt.

His creativity and drive in the middle of the park became increasingly important for the Glamour Boys and not only did Ngcobo shine in the domestic league, but also in the Caf Champions League where he played 11 matches and was one of the key players in helping his side make the final.

He was flying, high on confidence, and also found himself drafted into the Bafana Bafana setup.

But come the start of the new season and Hunt had been replaced by Baxter, who brought in two vastly more experienced midfielders in Cole Alexander and Phathutshedzo Nange. It's subsequently gone from bad to worse for Ngcobo who has had to rely on scraps of game-time while also losing his spot in the national team. As a youngster, one can only assume that by now his confidence has taken a major knock.

It’s also worth noting that ahead of the new season, Ngcobo was handed the number 12 jersey at Chiefs – a number often reserved for their most talented playmakers, the likes of Thabo Mooki and Ace Khuse having previously worn that shirt.

Clearly, as a youth team product, there was much excitement at the club around Ngcobo’s rise.

Conservative?

Nange, 29, and Alexander, 32, are solid footballers, but don't possess the same skill and flair which Ngcobo does. They've had good careers, but have never been national team contenders.

They're hard workers, good pros, players who can be relied upon, but not game-changers.

But they seem to suit Baxter's reliance on a conservative game-plan, which has nearly always included three more defensively-minded midfielders this season. It's not won the Brit any favours from the Amakhosi fan-base, who have become increasingly frustrated with some of the stodgy football the team has been dishing out.

Even though results have improved of late, that's been more the result of Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly coming up with moments of magic up front, and Bernard Parker rediscovering his scoring touch, and less about attractive, creative, free-flowing football.

A chance on Sunday?

Alexander, who played under Baxter in India and can therefore seen to be favoured, has become increasingly unpopular with the Chiefs fans. He made his case worse with two reckless challenges and a sending off in the 1-1 draw with AmaZulu on Wednesday.

That potentially opens the door for Ngcobo to start, though it would also not be surprising if Baxter turns to someone like Anthony Agay or Kearyn Baccus instead. That would say a lot about how far Ngcobo has fallen.

On the other hand, if he does play, there could well be nerves and he may try too hard to impress. It’s a difficult situation which Baxter has created.

Of course we don’t see what happens on the training ground every day, but it does feel as if Ngcobo’s been harshly treated this season.