CAPE TOWN - New Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy spoke with great enthusiasm and much satisfaction as he reflected on his first two weeks as a head coach.
A legend as a footballer, having gone from Seven Stars on the Cape Flats to European success with teams such as Ajax Amsterdam, Celta Vigo, FC Porto, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United, the 39-year-old from Hanover Park took the plunge last month and stepped into the City coaching job vacated by Eric Tinkler.
The City players returned for pre-season training last week - and McCarthy, in his usual ebullient manner, has tackled the task with the very same gusto he did as a player.
“Training has been very good,” he said. “The players have given me a lot more than I bargained for. The intensity was high and the quality very good.
“I can assure you that the players are making my job very difficult. Everybody has been fantastic. Last season, there were players who were regulars and they did well by finishing the season in third position.
“But I can tell that those who were not too involved last season have also given me much more than I expected. Boy, am I going to have a tough time to pick a starting 11. It’s going to be headache after headache.
“But, as a coach, it’s the best headache to have when players are working hard and fighting for positions. The commitment, the effort, I have been very impressed.”
McCarthy is in possession of a Uefa A coaching licence and is in the process of completing his Pro Licence (the highest coaching qualification in Europe).
His only previous experience in coaching has been a stint as assistant coach to Chris O’Loughlin at Belgian side Sint Truiden. While the former Bafana Bafana striker may not have much experience as a coach, he continues to live by the philosophy that “everybody has to start somewhere”.
And, as he embarks on his City coaching sojourn, he admits that the experience at Sint Truiden was important in making him understand the rigours and challenges of coaching, and just how different it is to being a player.
“The assistant job in Belgium prepared me for what to expect as a coach,” he said. “I saw first hand the things that players don’t get to see, like the hard work behind the scenes, the tactical analysis, having to study and analyse games your own players and the opponents, and the involved process in preparing for games.
“As a player, when training is over, you go home; as a coach, when training is over, your job is just starting.
“At City now as the head coach, at this stage of the season, my biggest challenge is to manage the demands of the players with regards to training loads. Some have come back from holiday, while some have been away with national teams.
“So the players have to be treated differently, you cannot just work everyone hard and then run the risk of them breaking down later in the season.
“I’m working very closely with the fitness coach, who has given me information on the history of the players’ fitness needs. We are working through all of these issues and handling it as a group, as a team.”
Earlier this week, City signed 34-year-old Teko Modise from Mamelodi Sundowns, and McCarthy couldn’t contain his elation at having the opportunity to work with the former Bafana midfielder.
“Teko is one of the country’s iconic players,” he said. “He has been around the block and played at the highest level, even at the World Cup. He has been there, done that, and has numerous Bafana caps to his name. The team he played for previously is today the best in Africa, and that should tell you that City have signed a winner.
“The younger players, too, will be able to learn from Teko’s experience and professionalism. In addition to that, he has a football brain, nothing can take that away from him. So, as a coach, when you have an opportunity to sign a player of his calibre, you have to take it.
“There are, of course, critics who question Teko’s age and fitness. Well, when I was a player, I too experienced such questions. But I still came back and answered all my critics with a Coke and a smile Teko is in the same situation, but I think he, too, will answer them quite easily because he still has the fitness and the desire. I am delighted to have him in my squad.”
McCarthy said, at this stage, he had no plans to take his City side out of Cape Town for a training camp. They will do all their pre-season preparation in the Cape. He wants his players to get to know the local conditions inside out because he wants to make the Mother City a fortress.
“The players have to be familiar with everything in the Cape, the environment, the surroundings, the conditions,” said McCarthy.
“When opposition teams come here, they must know they are entering a war zone. They come here to participate, but they go home empty-handed. This is a destination for the opposition to come for sightseeing, but not to win football matches.”