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ISL 2020-21: “Stuart Baxter is the most COMPLETE coach I know”: Cole Alexander

ISL 2020-21: “Stuart Baxter is the most COMPLETE coach I know”: Cole Alexander

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 31 Dec 2020 10:41 AM GMT

It hasn’t been a great start for Odisha FC in this season’s Indian Super League (ISL). The Kalinga Warriors are currently bottom of the pile with a paltry return of two points from seven games. Stuart Baxter’s side have looked good in patches but have lacked the consistency and attacking wherewithal to trouble opposition defences. Nonetheless, one player who has caught the eye with his industry and application in the middle of the park is South African recruit Cole Alexander.

Having scored his first goal of the campaign against NorthEast United, the former Ajax Cape Town and Bidvest Wits midfielder is looking forward to the second half of the season. In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, the 31-year-old spoke about his experience in India so far, the level of football in the ISL, playing under Stuart Baxter and a lot more.


He was one of the outstanding performers last season in the South African top division with Bidvest Wits and there were offers from clubs like Kaizer Chiefs and Stellenbosch FC. How then did he stumble upon Odisha and the ISL? “I always wanted to experience football in another league outside my country and to work with the sensei (Stuart Baxter) again is a great opportunity and privilege for me,” is his short and crisp reply to that. This brought us to the question about how different the ISL has been from everywhere else he has played before. To which he replied, “I think the standard of the football being played in the ISL is of very good quality. The teams are tactically very well set up and there are no easy games so that’s good that it’s so competitive.”

Cutthroat competition is not something he is new to. During his time at Ajax Cape Town, he was loaned out twice by the club owing to a multitude of midfield options ahead of him. Although the first move to Vasco Da Gama was acceptable to him, the second loan stint self-admittedly ‘broke him as a player’. Looking back at that period, Cole feels that he grew into the player that he is today because of the hardships. It is also the reason why he feels Odisha must not dwell in the past after a poor start because things can change quickly in football. “Even with the results not going our way, I think we are getting better,” he says. “We are learning and we are growing as a team every day and as long as we have the right perspective and attitude towards the game and not throwing the towel in, we will turn the corner I’m sure of that,” says the South Africa international.

His goal against NorthEast was a real thing of beauty and he hopes he can chip in with a few more as the season progresses. “To score my 1st goal in the ISL gave me great joy and I hope to continue to keep helping the team positively in any way I can,” he gushes before adding that the side’s performance against the Highlanders should unite the squad and make them more confident going into the next few games.


Despite their travails, the experienced midfielder has been impressed with the attitude of the youngsters and the way they have responded to negative results. “There are many youngsters I think who have huge potential. Paul (Ramfangzauva), Gaurav (Bora), Jerry, Vinit, Ankit (Bhuyan) just to name a few. They have the proper attitude towards the game and as long as they always want to learn, I think they are on the right track,” he opines.

Speaking about his best position on the pitch, Cole believes he can do a job as both a pure defensive midfielder as well as a box-to-box player. “I’ve played holding mid for the last two seasons so I’m familiar with the 6 and the 8 positions. But I think playing in the number 8 position will allow me to get myself more in the attacking third and possibly score a few more,” says the soft-spoken South African who initially started his career as an attacking midfielder before South African legend Duncan Crowie converted him into a more defensively-minded medio.

Which brings us back to his relationship with Stuart Baxter, his ‘Sensei’ with whom he has worked previously in the South African national team setup. “He is the most complete coach I know! After every team meeting with him I am pumped up and feel like I can run through a brick wall,” he says with visible excitement. “He instills confidence in us as well as equipping us with the correct principles and tactics for the game. He is a great tactician and a great motivator,” he adds.

For now, he is focused on turning around the season for Odisha but when he hangs up his boots, he feels he would make a good coach himself. “The day I retire and go into coaching I’m just going to copy and paste his (Baxter) philosophy and then add a bit of my own spice to it. He is an amazing human being,” he signs off on a cheerful note.

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