Nobody’s laughing any more at Benni McCarthy’s chances
What a breath of fresh air he has brought to the Premier Soccer League, both on and off the pitch
While fans of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fret over the title chances of their sides, and Mamelodi Sundowns supporters worry about declining fortunes at Chloorkop, not much has been made of the quiet revolution happening at Cape Town City under the watch of Benni McCarthy.
There were many sceptics when McCarthy was handed his first head coach role at the start of last season, taking over from the successful Eric Tinkler who had jumped ship to SuperSport United after leading City to third in the league and the Telkom Knockout trophy.
Would McCarthy’s fiery personality override his tactical brain? Did he have a philosophy on how the game should be played? Would he put in the hours and hours of preparation that are needed away from the training pitch for matches?
Those were all valid questions that have, at times, all needed to be answered.
McCarthy landed himself in hot water with the Premier Soccer League in his first season after numerous negative comments around match officials – to be fair, all valid, if put across a little strongly.
He almost got involved in a touchline brawl with Ajax Cape Town’s bench in the local derby in the last campaign, while by his own admission he was too worried about what his players would think of his decisions to make proper, informed choices.
At one stage he seemed ready to pack it all in as his frustration with SA football, and perhaps himself, reached boiling point.
It seemed that all the pre-arrival fears were valid and that a head coach role, in truth thrust upon him by City owner John Comitis – he never applied for the job – was a step too far for the former Bafana Bafana striker at this embryonic stage of his career.
But fast-forward to this season and the change in McCarthy, in just about every facet, has been remarkable.
He is much calmer with his players, the media and in the dugout, yet seems to carry more authority. He has a harder edge that is kept very much in check and seems completely in control of what is going on around him.
He has taken a harder line with his team, and demands 100% effort in every training or they will not be selected, regardless of form or reputation.
Tactically, he has developed the side from a one-dimensional counterattack unit under Tinkler to a free-flowing footballing team that uses pace, guile and intelligence to pick apart opponents and more often than not dominates possession and chances in matches.
His training sessions are richer, more adventurous and, by the look of things, more enjoyable for players.
His comments to the media are now measured and mature, and he does not seem as wound up by the inevitable mistakes from match officials that are common in the local game, and certainly not skewed against his side.
McCarthy still comes out with the odd zinger to the press, but it is not said in anger, but more with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky grin. He looks like he is enjoying himself.
We are seeing the maturing of Benni McCarthy as a coach and what a breath of fresh air he has brought to the Premier Soccer League this season, both on and off the pitch. He has moved streets ahead of rivals as SA’s most promising young coach and the local game is much richer for his presence.
He has also managed to back this up with silverware – the 2018 MTN8 title – while his side are very much back in the Absa Premiership title race and arguably the form side in the country.
Having moved his wife, Stacey, and daughter, Lima Rose, out from Scotland at the start of the season, he appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future too, though he has made it clear his ambition is to return to Europe to work as a head coach.
McCarthy achieved so much as a player in his illustrious career. Don’t bet against him being the first modern-day South African to coach in a major European league as well.