CAPE TOWN – Ask me who my favourite footballer in the PSL is and I will tell you, without any thought or hesitation: Thabo Nodada.
The dynamic, tenacious Cape Town City midfielder with the unflagging spirit represents everything I love in a player: courage, determination, commitment, touch and skill, a supreme team ethic, an indomitable spirit and, more importantly, a warm, humble and engaging personality.
On Saturday night, in the cauldron of the MTN8 final, Nodada was an inspirational presence in the City engine-room - linking, passing, tackling and covering every blade of grass - which is why it was only fitting that it was Nodada who provide the winning moment, converting the final spot-kick to give the Citizens a 4-1 penalty shoot-out win over SuperSport United at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Crowned MTN8 champions on Saturday, it’s only right we doff our caps to City. In their third season as a PSL club, they’ve already been in three cup finals: for two wins and one defeat.
I remember, quite vividly, when the club was first established in 2016, owner John Comitis told me what he had in mind: to wake football up in the Cape, and to capture the imagination of football followers across the country. City have most certainly done so, not only in their innovation, both and off the field, but also in Comitis’ courage in taking a chance on an untried coach like Benni McCarthy.
As a player, McCarthy strode the European and international stage like a colossus. He accumulated trophies, goals and accolades in a successful decade in some of the finest football leagues in the world. Over the last few years, he had been preparing for the next phase by equipping himself with the necessary qualifications to be a head coach.
He was still busy with his Uefa Pro Licence when Comitis came calling last year. McCarthy, never one to shirk a challenge, took the job, rolled up his sleeves and, a year later, here we are: McCarthy has won his first major trophy as a coach.
There’s certainly no disputing the character, the work ethic and the unshakeable confidence of the man: a serial winner as a player, he’s planted the first seed to becoming a serial winner as a coach too.
McCarthy is the first to admit that his first season in charge of City was a learning curve. He made many mistakes as he found his feet and his groove as a coach. But, not only that, last season was also an opportunity for the former Bafana Bafana striker to assess the weak areas in his squad.
The one aspect he was adamant about, and he drummed this fact into Comitis during the off-season, was that he wanted a quality, top-class and reliable goalkeeper. The duo used their connections at Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam and lured Dutch keeper Peter Leeuwenburgh to the Mother City. And what an inspired decision that has turned out to be.
Leeuwenburg has been a brilliant, match-defining presence at the Cape club. He was the hero during City’s win in the semi-finals against Mamelodi Sundowns - and did the very same in the final on Saturday, pulling off two magnificent saves in the shoot-out to steer City to victory.
The final ended 0-0 after 120 minutes, though City were dominant throughout. The one major problem with the team remains the inability to kill off the opposition. City created chance after chance, but score they couldn’t.
Nevertheless, the Capetonians got over the line in the shoot-out, in what was a fantastic all-round team performance: central defender Kwanda Mngonyama was an immovable figure at the back, tackling, harrying and fighting for everything; Mozambican left-back Edmilson was brilliant, both in defence and attack; skipper Thami Mkhize was, as usual, excellent, expressive, exemplary and inspiring; Austrian Roland Putsche is the glue that holds everything together and teenager Gift Links has come into his own.
Leeuwenburg donned his super-hero cape to rescue City in the shoot-out; and, of course, the last word in this column can only go to one man: the irrepressible Nodada.