Last year this time, the Mother City had only one PSL club (Ajax Cape Town). A month later, there were two after City was established when John Comitis purchased the top-flight franchise of Mpumalanga Black Aces.
Soon after, the naysayers and critics were out in force: They’ll never succeed, the players will struggle to adapt to the Mother City, and the Cape’s football followers won’t respond to a squad they don’t know all that much about.
None of that came to fruition; in fact, just the opposite. With lots of hard work and commitment behind the scenes, both on and off the field, City were flying right from the start. There have been hurdles, but they took it in their stride – and, through some fantastic performances, the Telkom Knockout trophy was quickly in the cabinet.
At the moment, third on the PSL standings, behind Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns, City will have to hope for their rivals to drop points if they are to pull off an unlikely league championship victory. At this stage, it’s a slim chance, but a chance nevertheless. And, in this strange and often cruel game of football, anything is possible.
The players have been superb. The reliability of goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters, two excellent right-backs in Thami Mkhize and Vincent Kobola, two superb left-backs in Edmilson Dove and Ebrahim Seedat and, of course, the solid, immovable central defensive partnership of Tshepo Gumede and Robyn Johannes.
Add to that the class of Lebogang Manyama, the panache of Aubrey Ngoma, the versatility of Thato Mokeke and the two industrious central midfield gangsters Roland Putsche and Mpho Matsi, while Lehlohonolo Majoro, Judas Moseamedi, Bhongolethu Jayiya, Letsie Koapeng, Sibusiso Masina and Thabo Nodada have all chipped in with valuable contributions when needed.
But, throughout it all, the glue holding everything together is Eric Tinkler, City’s remarkable head coach, and his is most certainly a career to track very closely. The 46-year-old former Bafana Bafana hard man is a coach on the rise.
He is still relatively new as a head coach, considering that he has spent a good deal of the past few years as an assistant-coach to Roger de Sa (at Wits and at Orlando Pirates). Yet, look at who he is mixing it with this season. Log leaders Wits have Gavin Hunt, a multiple title-winning coach, and Sundowns have Pitso Mosimane, the current African Coach of the Year.
SuperSport’s Stuart Baxter, who twice won the PSL title with Kaizer Chiefs, has just been named as the new Bafana Bafana coach. Tinkler got the better of him in the Telkom final in December last year – and, now, to stay in touch with Wits and Sundowns in the title-race, he has to do so again in Atteridgeville tonight.
“Eric has a father figure way about him,” said Comitis. “He doesn’t need ready-made players, he is prepared to build them up from the bottom. He rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck into the job.
“Most importantly, he is always honest with his players, They know exactly where they stand with him. He gets everybody in the squad to feel a part of things, nobody is left out in the cold. And, also, everybody has this season been able to see his tactical preparation for a game, it is always of the highest order. Every player knows exactly what is expected of him.”
Comitis acknowledged that, whatever happens from here on in, the team has already over-achieved with regard to the targets they set at the beginning of the season. As for the title, he was hopeful, even optimistic, but admitted that it would need Wits and Sundowns to stumble in the remaining three games of the campaign.
“Tonight’s clash with SuperSport is as critical as any other,” said the City boss. “We have to make sure that we win and take the three points, to keep the pressure on the top two. They have to drop points to give us a shot at the title.”