Amazulu coach Benni McCarthy will have to cast “hometown emotions” aside today as he makes a return to the Western Cape, the area where it all began for him as both a player and a coach. His in-form Usuthu troops clash against his former employers Cape Town City in what promises to be a cracker of a match.
The 43-year-old was not only born in Cape Town, but also started his professional football career with the now-defunct Cape Town-based club Seven Stars, playing under current Kaizer Chiefs coach Gavin Hunt in 1995.
Fast forward 22 years to 2017 and after a successful playing career in Europe, McCarthy was again achieving a milestone in his hometown, this time starting his coaching career with City.
During his two-and-a-half-year stay with City, McCarthy showed glimpses of brilliance as a coach, as he led the Citizens to the MTN8 Cup. However, his coaching stint at City went on to end on a bad note as the club opted to cut ties with him in November 2019 after picking up just two wins from his final 18 games at the helm.
Since taking charge of AmaZulu in December, McCarthy's skills as a manager appeared to have gone up a notch and he is certainly calmer and more considered in his approaches as could be seen at City.
While new AmaZulu owner Sandile Zungu did inject much needed resources into the team, their signings would still not have been the first-choices of the three “big” Gauteng clubs - Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
Prior to the start of the season, fans and pundits alike considered Zungu's top-four target “over-ambitious”, with Zungu himself joking in a recent social media post that that target is now no longer just a “mampara's dream”.
McCarthy currently has the team in second place in the Premiership and in contention for a historic berth in the Caf Champions League next season, so it's likely that they have surpassed the ambitious Zungu's expectations so far.
The clash between AmaZulu and City promises to be a top one between two confident sides. Though the table, suggests AmaZulu will be the favourites, City have hit form just in time for the game and will also be boosted by their home advantage.
Despite being ordinary for most of this season Jan Olde Riekerink's team enter the clash on the back of three consecutive victories, while AmaZulu will go into the clash having won seven out of their last eight league games.
City and Bafana Bafana midfielder Thabo Nodada believes that his team needs to maintain their current form and frustrate AmaZulu who will be dreaming of an unlikely title win.
“We've won three in a row convincingly. We had a similar end to the season last year in the bubble. We have the players to beat any team in the league and it's something we showed at the end of last season,” Nodada said.
“Some of their players come from here as well as the coach and assistant coach, so they know us well but at the same time we know their players and how they prepare for games.”