Head Coach profile: Stuart Baxter the perfect foil for Odisha FC’s young squad

Odisha FC have placed their faith in head coach Stuart Baxter to guide them to a maiden playoff spot in their second Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) campaign. The Bhubaneswar-based club fell short of the playoffs after finishing sixth in the standings last season and have now roped in Baxter, who brings a wealth of experience to club’s backroom staff.

The 67-year-old perfectly complements Odisha’s relatively young squad. He began his career as a youth team coach and has dealt with several youngsters over the course of his journeyman career. The former manager of England’s U-19s over a two-year period, Baxter knows exactly how to deal with youngsters, which makes him the right fit for Odisha FC.

“It’s very important to have the right culture around youngsters and the team. It is very important to communicate what is expected of them clearly and in a way they understand. There is no use talking to them in a language that we used with players like me when we were 15 or 16. We must put it in a way they understand,” Baxter once told indiansuperleague.com.

A midfielder in his younger days as a player, Baxter started his football journey with Preston North End before representing a host of clubs from England, Scotland, Australia, Sweden and America. He began his coaching career with Swedish club Orebro SK’s youth team, while his first senior management role came with Norway’s IF Skarp and it was followed by a short spell with Portuguese outfit Vitoria Setubal.

Once his stint in Portugal ended, Baxter returned to Sweden and enjoyed a three-year spell with Halmstads BK, guiding them to promotion in his first season with the club. His first experience of coaching in Asia soon followed with Sanfrecce Hiroshima. He helped the Japanese club win the J1 League title (1st stage) before moving to another club from the land of the rising sun -- Vissel Kobe.

His time with Vissel Kobe didn’t yield as much success as Sanfrecce Hiroshima though, leading to him returning to Sweden again. There he took charge of AIK and led them to the league championship and the Swedish Football Cup. He also managed Helsingborgs IF and won his second Swedish football cup with them before continuing his adventure on the international stage first as South Africa’s manager and then Finland’s.

After two years with Finland and a couple of years away from coaching altogether, Baxter returned with South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs. Like his time in Sweden, the Englishman got his hands on some more silverware with the Chiefs as he guided them to two Premier Soccer League triumphs as well as a domestic cup win.

With more than 25 years in management across three continents at the club and international level, Baxter doesn’t just bring an abundance of experience into the fold for Odisha FC but also offers a winning mentality that can take players to the next level. If nothing else, his track record of winning trophies certainly bodes well for the Bhubaneswar-based club as they eye a maiden playoff berth in their second Hero ISL campaign.

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