Stephen Baxter gives big hint on his future as he edges closer to Crusaders departure

Photo of Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter after beating Linfield
-Credit: (Image: INPHO/Stephen Hamilton)

Stephen Baxter's departure from Crusaders is edging ever closer but the long-serving Seaview boss insisted he is not calling time on his career just yet. Baxter brought his domestic tenure of the Crues to an end in May with victory in the European play-off.

He was back at Seaview again on Saturday as the club honoured his successful 19 years at the helm with a testimonial against Derry City. Declan Caddell took charge of first team affairs as he prepares for the new campaign but Baxter still has a role to play as he leads the team into Europe next month.

The 58-year-old's time on the Shore Road will finally come to the end once Crusaders' European adventure comes to an end this summer. But Baxter reiterated that doesn't necessarily mean he is calling time on his career.

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“I never at any stage said that I was retiring, a lot of media brought that into it,” he insisted. “From my point of view, I always think in life, whether it’s football or business or whatever you do, I think there comes a period when you know that you’ve walked that journey and I had got to that point where I didn’t know if I could a lot more and it was time to hand over to others.

“Declan Caddell, Steven Livingstone and David Rainey are three people who played for me and they’ve a big affiliation to this football club and there’s a great managerial team behind the scenes, there’s a great squad of players and Declan has added some new blood.

“I’m obviously here for another period of time, so I haven’t stepped away fully as manager, because I’m here for Europe. I need to see that job through and that was always the plan.

“Because of Europe, there’s still those connections with the club and, until I step away completely from it whenever they exit Europe, then we’ll see. If someone picks up the phone and rings me and says, ‘Stephen, there’s a big job to be done’ and I feel as if I’m refreshed, then you never know.”

It was fitting Derry City provided the opposition for Baxter's big day on Saturday. The Candystripes ran out 2-0 winners at Seaview thanks to goals from Ben Doherty and Zuriel Otseh-Taiwo but Baxter's thoughts turned to what he felt was his great triumph at Crusaders and one which helped shaped the club.

“The Setanta Cup Final in my book was the turning point for the club because we were a mediocre team who were just starting to challenge for the League at that time," he said. "While we were improving all the time, to win that All-Ireland tournament gave us that confidence to attack the next bit, which was to go after the Leagues and the Cups and challenge the big boys in the League.

“After winning the Setanta Cup, we then successfully challenged the big boys for half a dozen years and more, so that was the turning point, as that big, big win gave us the confidence to push on to bigger and better things.

“So yeah, today was a bit of nostalgia. Ruaidhri Higgins played in the Final for Derry City and I always think whenever you have that wee connection and wee bit affiliation, it’s nice. In fact, some of the lads who played for that Derry City team came and played here under me and I still keep in touch with them.

“That’s wonderful and that’s the football game, which makes it so good and why we all do it and it was nice to have Derry City here today to mark things. It has been a fun day and I really want it to be that type of day, it was nice to just enjoy things with family, friends and the Crusaders fans.”

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