CAPE TOWN – Leaders are important for a football team.
It’s something Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy is acutely cognisant of – and it is why, when last season’s skipper Robyn Johannes moved on, excellent right back Thami Mkhize was handed the captain’s armband.
Mkhize leads the City side on to the field in an MTN8 semi-final first leg clash against Mamelodi Sundowns at the Cape Town Stadium this afternoon (3pm), and he’s confident they have what it takes to emerge victorious.
Captaincy is not a popularity contest.
Leaders have something different, which is why coaches, like McCarthy, make sure that they have the right man inspiring the players in the squad.
A captain puts the team first; he is not interested in personal glory because for him, only the team matter.
A captain is a player who leads by example; he doesn’t have to shout at the top of his voice, he simply performs with distinction and consistency, and his passion and commitment rub off on those around him.
Mkhize is such a player – and by definition, he is such a captain.
With Johannes having signed for Bidvest Wits, Mkhize is doing a stellar job, leading from the front for City.
But like many leaders, he isn’t interested in hogging the spotlight – instead, he prefers to include and thank others for making his task easier.
“The senior players around me have helped me do the job,” he said. “I’ve also had the assistance of the coaches to fulfil the position.”
But as much as his role as captain is important, his marauding presence down the right flank has become an integral part of City’s approach.
It was something McCarthy found out in a recent 2-1 defeat to Baroka FC in Polokwane.
With both left backs out injured, the coach shifted Mkhize to centre-back and debuted 20-year-old Keanu Cupido at right back.
The switch unbalanced the Capetonians because they then lacked penetration down the right, and McCarthy was eventually forced back to default mode.
Cupido went to centre-back, Mkhize to his usual position on the right, and City looked threatening as an attacking force again.
Against Sundowns, when Mkhize bombs down the right he will come up against former teammate Lyle Lakay, who occupies the Pretoria club’s left flank.
After doing well for City last season, Lakay signed for Sundowns at the beginning of the season.
“I am really happy for him, playing for such a big team in Africa, because as players, we all want to be competing against the best,” Mkhize said.
“Funny enough, I’ve already told him that, as much as we are friends, for the 90 minutes on the field this weekend, we won’t be friends.”
As for facing Sundowns, the City skipper knows they are in for a difficult challenge.
“They’re a tough team with quality everywhere, so it will be important for us to bring our A-game,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that because we’re playing at home, we might be able to get one or two goals. But for us as defenders, the most important thing is that we don’t concede.”
“We know where we went wrong the last time around. We’ve worked on our mistakes, tweaked a few positions, a few players. For us, it doesn’t matter whether we face Sundowns or Chippa, it’s simple, you’ve got to beat your opponent.” - Benni McCarthy#iamCityFC pic.twitter.com/X7UcGfInUn
In City’s first season as a club in 2016, they won the Telkom Knockout Cup; last season, they made the final of the MTN8, but came unstuck against SuperSport United.
This time, Mkhize wants to go all the way again. “Last year’s defeat to SuperSport was a lesson learnt,” he said.
“We obviously all want to win cups, so this is another opportunity for us.
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“I’m just hoping we can win against Sundowns and then anything can happen in the final. I tasted victory when we won the Telkom Knockout, so I really want to win this one too.”