Opinion: How Benni McCarthy's learning the hard way at Cape Town City?

Benni McCarthy’s tenure as coach of Cape Town City has already experienced all the emotions that seasoned coaches have somehow undergone in their illustrious coaching careers, except the feeling of being in a relegation battle.

Winning his first five matches, three of those against a coach who launched his professional football career, what a breakthrough! Playing in a Cup final. Losing a Cup final. Being on top of the log. And frustratingly, at his wit's end, watching his team’s inability to close out matches. It has been so frustrating for the Uefa Champions League winner that he’s also said some unimaginable things about his team, players and referees in his post-match interviews.

Shuaib Walter, Benni McCarthy, Cape Town City FC Coach Announcement

Flummoxed about the defeats to Bloemfontein Celtic and Chippa United, McCarthy said that some players need ‘a good slap or two’, he also said he will ‘not be taking any more risks’ after rotating his side and lost. Visibly irate after losing to Chippa, ‘don’t ask me about that cow!’ he referred to referee Phillip Tinyani. His most recent one would be, “My players just never listen,” the former Blackburn Rovers striker said after his team surrendered their slender lead in the dying minutes of their 1-1 away clash against SuperSport United. Add to that the challenges of not having a training ground and not having a regular match venue.

When you’ve watched the Citizens play you get an idea of where he comes from at times, certainly not deserving of some slurs nevertheless. What we witnessed from McCarthy’s side on Tuesday night was an indication of how good they can be. The City team that came out of the tunnel at Loftus Versfeld Stadium seemed like a side crafted out of a different and a far juicier meat from what we've been witnessing. They were more direct and thrilling. They stuck together as a unit and executed their game plan to perfection to finish their year on a high and return to second position on the Premier Soccer League table.

Benni McCarthy

If you ask me, the last time we witnessed such a resounding performance from City was when they dismantled a hapless Ajax Cape Town 2-0 in the Cape Derby many moons ago.

The MTN-8 final was lost in a similar manner that City conceded a late goal against SuperSport over a week ago. They had the game all sewn up, but the opposition snatched a late draw. It leaves you wondering if –on those instances- McCarthy’s decisions were to be questioned or can you allude to underachieving players, once more?

Against AmaZulu in Cape Town last week, we saw a different side of City. McCarthy’s men were made to work hard for their 1-0 victory over Usuthu. City dug deep to come out with all three points and that is exactly what championship teams are made of. It doesn’t always have to be attractive, there comes a time when you have to graft for the maximum points and that’s exactly what they were made to do. This was something that we have not witnessed since the 1-0 win over Free State Stars early in November. Against Sundowns it was City’s first away win since the 2-1 win against Bidvest Wits in the MTN-8 back in September. 

Mhlengi Cele of AmaZulu takes on Taariq Fielies of Cape Town City

Often they lead or manage to claw their way back into the game after conceding early, and then they blow cold, run out of steam and they collapse. Or they don’t show up at all, like in the match against Bloemfontein Celtic, the 0-1 loss at home, and in the home-away-from-home fixture against Maritzburg United, a 2-4 loss.

With everything said, City are second on the log standings and regardless of how much hair McCarthy has lost, he has done exceptionally well for a beginner coach with limited resources. He’s shown some acumen as a coach and put some zip back into his side. Out of 20 matches in all competitions, the 40-year-old Bafana Bafana great has managed 10 wins, three draws, and seven losses. It could’ve been much better with more performances like that in midweek.

The signs are there and with new possibly signings like Brilliant Khuzwayo, a Mandla Masango, then surely Cape Town City can at least manage to surge on from here onwards.

But whether Benni can manage to convince Lehlohonolo Majoro, Aubrey Ngoma, and Robyn Johannes to stay and keep the squad even stronger, I do not know.