CAPE TOWN - Benni McCarthy’s philosophy already appears to be seeping into the Cape Town City squad, judging by the sentiments of experienced central defender Robyn Johannes.
City swing into action on Saturday when they host Polokwane City in a MTN8 quarter-final tie at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3pm kickoff), with Johannes saying: “Polokwane are not an easy side to play. They have good, tricky ball players But it’s our home game and the attitude we have adopted at City is that nobody comes to Cape Town and walks all over us.”
This, of course, is in tune with McCarthy’s attitude about making the Mother City a football fortress.
The PSL’s league campaign commences next week, but this Cup competition, which features last season’s top-eight teams on the standings, annually acts as a precursor to the main event: an appetiser, if you will; a taste of the season ahead.
Having finished third on the PSL table last season, City, as per the format of the competition, will take on the team that finished sixth - Polokwane. And, especially, considering how well the Limpopo Province side performed last season, this is a real tricky opener for the Capetonians.
For City, there’s a great deal at stake. It’s not so much getting off to a good start - but, after the sensational impact they made in their debut campaign, all eyes are glued on the Cape club to see how they go this time around, especially with McCarthy now in charge of the team.
While McCarthy’s presence will garner attention, so, too, will the high-profile new signings, Teko Modise, Ayanda Patosi and Lyle Lakay. But, and the new coach will be the first to admit it, new players normally take a while to adapt, which means that the responsibility for the team’s stability is firmly in the hands of the experienced old hands: Like central defender Johannes.
Johannes, originally from Strandfontein, returned home last year to sign for City - and, amazingly, even though Cape blood flows vibrantly through his veins, it was actually the first time he turned out for one of the Mother City’s professional clubs. As a junior, he played at Parkhurst in Mitchells Plain, Strandfontein, Hellenic and Rygersdal before heading up north to seek his football fortune. He did this at a number of PSL clubs, including Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, Golden Arrows and Maritzburg United.
In fact, when McCarthy returned from a highly-successful time in Europe and signed to finish off his career at Pirates in 2011, Johannes was one of his teammates. Modise, who arrived in the Cape last month as City’s “Hollywood name”, was also in the Buccaneers squad at the time. Now, with McCarthy as coach, and seasoned campaigners Johannes and Modise still going strong, City have an axis upon which they can plot a campaign to elevate the club even further.
“Many good players don’t often go on to become good coaches,” said Johannes. “But Benni is a winner. We’ve been friends for a long while, even before he came to Pirates, I know him well, and I am confident that he will be successful as a coach.
“I played with Teko at Pirates and he is a great signing for us. He’s a big-name player and I can assure you he is hungry, and he has a point to prove. He won’t just be good for us on the pitch, but off it he can also make a contribution.
"He has been around a while and has won quite a few trophies and awards - he knows what it takes to be a success. We have a lot of youngsters at the club and Teko can play a role in growing and guiding them as they strive (to) become professional players.”
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Under McCarthy, pre-season preparations have been gathering momentum - and City can’t wait to get things going this Saturday.
“The preparation for the new season has gone well,” said the 30-year-old Johannes. “It’s so far so good, I guess, but we have a big season ahead. We will continue to work hard and, by the time we kick off on Saturday, we want to be a well-oiled machine.”
In Polokwane, though, City know they are up against a team that doesn’t know when to quit. The Limpopo visitors will keep running, keep trying, and they’ll be no pushovers on Saturday. Last season, on the final day of the league campaign, City faced Polokwane away from home - they went 2-0 up and thought they had it in the bag, but the opposition rallied and thumped the Capetonians 4-2.
“Polokwane will be a difficult game,” said Johannes. “Last season, they got us on the last day when I think we were already on holiday, as we had nothing to play for. We’ll be ready this time.
We know that, in this competition, there are just three games to get to the final, so we know what’s at stake. Last season, we lost to Wits in the semi-finals and, this time, we want to go further.”