CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City boss John Comitis rolled out the tributes for coach Eric Tinkler as the Cape club prepared to take on SuperSport United in a PSL fixture at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville on Tuesday(7.30pm kickoff).
While the players have been superb, the glue holding everything together is 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 last 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 Mamelodi 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. The team structure has been organised and every player knows exactly what is expected of him.”
So let’s put this out there right now, even before the PSL season closes in a few weeks’ time. Irrespective of the outcome when City take on SuperSport tonight, whatever happens in the club’s two other remaining games, and whether they win the league title or not, it has without doubt been a phenomenal debut campaign.
Last year this time, the Mother City had only one PSL club. A month later, there were two.
Soon after, the naysayers and critics were out in force: City will 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 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 displayed in the cabinet. At the moment, third on the PSL standings, behind Wits and 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.
Tinkler’s magic wand has definitely brought the best out of his squad. 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 midfielder “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.
Comitis, though, acknowledged that, whatever happens from here on in, the team has already over-achieved with regards to the targets they set at the beginning of the season. As for the title, he was hopeful, even optimistic, but admitted that City 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.”
Tuesday: SuperSport v City (Lucas Moripe Stadium, 7.30pm)
Wednesday: Sundowns v Baroka FC; Free State Stars v Wits; Celtic v Pirates; Maritzburg v Platinum
Saturday: Arrows v Baroka; Polokwane v Chiefs; Ajax v Celtic (Cape Town Stadium, 8.15pm)
Sunday: Highlands Park v Chippa