Stuart Baxter: Been sending players tactical, training and nutritional advice

Odisha FC’s head coach Stuart Baxter may not have had the chance to meet his players face-to-face yet, but he has been passing on instructions to them, nonetheless. The 66-year-old coach recently sat down for an in-depth exclusive interview with indiansuperleague.com and revealed how he’s been making the most of technology to pass on advice and keep in touch with his players.

“I have had one meeting with the players by Zoom. I have been sending certain training and nutritional advice. I have been sending presentations to explain some of the tactical aspects of what they are going to be needed to prepare for but obviously during this time, it’s been quite difficult and so I will be having more meetings regularly once I have my feet under the table a bit more and I hope that the players will look forward to that,” Baxter revealed.

The Englishman comes to the Hero ISL with an abundance of experience having coached teams across three continents. The Hero ISL, in fact, won’t be his first experience in Asia since he’s previously coached Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vissel Kobe in the J1 League. Based on his experience of managing in Asia earlier, the Englishman feels that there are a lot of similarities between the Hero ISL now and the Japanese league during his time in the east Asian nation.

“Well, I’ve looked at the (Hero Indian Super) league and I can see a lot of similarities to when I first went to the J-League in Japan. I see improvement in the league. It’s a better product now than it was a few years back. I’ve spoked to people who were actually working in the league at the time and they agree with me,” Baxter opined.

He continued, “I think some of the teething pains that we have are symptomatic of a fledgling league, a league that is finding its feet and wants to get as much information as possible about how to improve. Yes, I did follow the league, especially after becoming interested in working in India and that was ramped up when I was offered the job in Odisha. I know more about my players than everybody else’s players but by the time I’m in India for the pre-season training that will change as well.”

Want players to cooperate and be an integral part of the community

Even though he hasn’t had the opportunity to visit India since his appointment as Odisha’s head coach, Baxter made it clear that he wants his players to ‘cooperate’ and ‘be an integral part’ of the Odia community.

“Without having been in the province and country, I can give you the vision for every club that I’ve coached. I want us to be an integral part of the community, I want us to cooperate with the community, I want us to be an inspiring venue for young people – our players or supporters, doesn’t matter. I want us to be a team and club that people look at and say, ‘they are doing the job well, they are doing the job properly, they are a good reflection of the Indian mentality in sport’,” Baxter said.

While discussing his philosophy, the experienced head coach explained that his footballing mantra has more than one facet. He went on to expand on why it’s important for a coach to adjust to the needs of a player as well as his team’s style of play.

A flexible philosophy to help players

“My philosophy as a coach is that I am there for the needs of the players. I don’t believe that I should be the central attraction all the time. I think a good coach should know when to move to one side and allow the players to improve. I think he should know when to become an instructor and give the players the necessary information that they need to develop,” Baxter said.

“And I think he has to be able to inspire a player by either putting his arm around them or by waking them up with some sharp words. I think the modern coach is one that understands that and knows which hat to put on at what time. So, my philosophy about player development is that.

“When it comes to being offensive or defensive, our defence should not be at the cost of our offensive game. And our offensive game shouldn’t be so gung-ho that we’re an entertaining bunch of losers. So, we will have a clear strategy in all aspects of the game and that will help the players perform at their best,” he added.

As far as his ambitions for his first campaign with Odisha is concerned, Baxter feels that while results will be a defining factor, it may not be the only yardstick to measure the progress made by his team.A successful season for a professional is winning something. Given the past, relative success would be to finish better (in the standings) than we have finished before. I will have upon myself the quiet demands that I want to win something. Is that possible? I’ll know more about that when I see our opponents and my squad more closely,” he insisted.

“As a professional, we are there to win things. But winning things isn’t the only measure of success. If we can develop our young players or if I see 4-5 young players that make massive strides forward and represent the national team (that’s also success). If I see one of the young players breaking through and becoming a major star or if I see better performances that will also be a successful season. But again, as a professional, results are what you are measured by,” Baxter added.

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