CAPE TOWN - Benni McCarthy is never lost for words. He has never been short of confidence. But the character trait that is his greatest strength is his ability to learn. It served him well as a player - and, now, he has put that same skill, this unquenchable thirst for football knowledge and experience, to good use in his quest to be the best coach he can be.
Last season was McCarthy’s first as a head coach when he steered Cape Town City to fifth position on the PSL standings. Now, having completed his Uefa Pro Licence, the 40-year-old former Bafana Bafana striker has heeded the lessons of last season and he is determined his team will go even better this time around.
City open the 2018-19 league season with a home fixture against SuperSport United at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (6pm kickoff) - and McCarthy was honest and forthright in looking back and, at the same time, super-confident in looking forward.
“I think last season I tried too hard to make the players feel comfortable,” said McCarthy. “I probably babied the players too much. That will change - I will be more direct this season because it’s not about being liked or not, it’s about getting the job done. I think the players want to be told how it is straight, and that is what I will do. It’s going to be a brutal season. In any case, the team knows what we want as a club and they have to be professional about it.
“But I’m excited for this season, probably much more than last season, because I’m not a rookie anymore. The technical team around me brings a sense of calmness and the players have upped their game. I’m optimistic - and I think we are real contenders this season. I have a balanced squad, with two or three players for every position. Now it’s about getting the monkey off our backs and making sure we get the season off to a winning start on Saturday.”
McCarthy has no doubt about his, and the team’s intentions, this season. “For us, we don’t want to come to training every day, work hard, and have the mentality that we don’t want to win things,” he said. “Because if that is the way that you think, then you may as well stay at home. We want to win silverware, we want to be in contention for everything. You will see the same from City this season: compact football, with players confident on the ball.
"We have added Peter (Leeuwenburgh) who has brought a calmness to the team. Together with Peter, we have Sage (Stephens), and both keepers allow us to play out from the back. Up front, we have Matthew Rusike who is looking like a new player, and the man we call ‘Shaka Zulu’, Siphelele Mthembu. As a striker, Mthembu adds a new dimension to our game, in that he can hold the ball up and bring teammates into play. Mostly, though, we will look to take it game by game - every day is a new day, every game is a new final.”
McCarthy, though, acknowledged that facing SuperSport first up is a tough ask. “SuperSport are always difficult, they have a team with lots of experience,” said McCarthy. “I don’t know too much because they haven’t done much business during the transfer window, so they’ve been a little under the radar. Some may say that they are an ageing squad, but age brings experience and composure, players who are familiar with situations, and are able to grind out results.”
But amid all the positivity of City’s season’s preparations, McCarthy revealed what his biggest problem was. Asked about injuries to his squad, he said: “Nothing much, just the usual niggles, but I have an injury - my head hurts: selection for Saturday is already giving me a headache.”