The Monday Column: Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy feeling the heat
Posted: 30 October 2017 Time: 13:00
It was always going to be a matter of when, not if, the trying times would hit Benni McCarthy and his Cape Town City side after their near-perfect start to the season.
Five wins in a row, and into a cup final less than a month into the start of his tenure: coaching seemed easy for the Bafana Bafana legend.
The turning point came on a forgetful evening at Moses Mabhida Stadium two weeks ago as City, on the cusp of winning just their second trophy in their second season of existence, let a 1-0 lead slip to eventually lose 4-2 on penalties to new MTN8 champions SuperSport United.
Cue the unravelling.
Just three days later, City had to pick themselves up and face off against Bloemfontein Celtic in the league. McCarthy made eight changes to the starting line-up that had played in the final the previous weekend. It was a risky plan: yes, give the players who had just lost a final a break, as they might not have been in a good head space. Yet eight new faces, many who had enjoyed very little game-time since the start of the season, meant rusty combinations, lack of match fitness, and ultimately, a lacklustre performance as the Citizens lost 1-0 at home.
An away trip to Chippa United followed, with McCarthy insisting he was not impressed by his fringe players’ performances the previous game, as he brought back his regulars – but to no avail. Again City took the lead – a bullet finish from Lyle Lakay – but again concentration waned in the second half, as the two goals conceded resulted in another defeat.
Last week’s Telkom Knockout – a competition in which City were the reigning champions – gave the Cape club a chance to lift themselves up. However, in the build-up to the game, captain Robyn Johannes openly admitted he and his charges were still not over their MTN8 final loss, while McCarthy remained bullish, insisting he was happy with his side’s performances despite the results not going their way.
Yet the Citizens once again failed to cross the line, as Talent Chawapiwa’s early strike proved the difference in Limpopo, with City failing to break down a stubborn Bakgaga defence as they were knocked out of the competition at the first hurdle.
Come Sunday evening, McCarthy was singing a vastly different tune to his pre-match optimism, questioning his team’s hunger and work-rate on the pitch. He also questioned their mental toughness, saying “my players tend to overthink when they lose and they don't get over a defeat quickly”.
It seems the Benni bubble may slowly be deflating, with his side’s current four-game winless streak posing a true test of character and examining the former South African striker’s credentials as a coach.
City have only once this season come back from a goal down to record a win, and interestingly have yet to draw a match in the league – their only stalemate was their eventual MTN8 final loss. This seems to be a reflection of Benni’s “all or nothing” approach, yet in trying times, he might need to learn that even a point is enough.
The chopping and changing of personnel does not seem to be helping his cause either, especially in a department as crucial as the number one spot: the experienced Shu-Aib Walters has started seven games between the posts, while surprise signing Sage Stephens – at AmaZulu in the First Division last season, has started the last five, barring the MTN8 final when Walters returned.
Yes, reward players who deserve it and who impress at training, but consistency and team cohesion is also key, and possibly lacking at present.
Despite the supposed crisis, it must be noted that a league victory in their game in hand will propel the Citizens to second in the Absa Premiership standings to just a point behind Baroka.
Up next though is a tricky task against Free State Stars, who are enjoying a four-match unbeaten run in the league, and are starting to look the part under vocal and tactically astute coach Luc Eymael.
Following Wednesday night’s fixture, there’s a three-week FIFA international break for McCarthy and his charges to halt their recent disappointing run, recoup and regroup as they look to get the season back on track.
As Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt stated after City’s impressive run earlier in the season: “Judge Benni after 1000 games, not five”. It’s been 13 so far. You be the judge.