CAPE TOWN – It was no big surprise to see Eric Tinkler quit Cape Town City to hitch his wagon to SuperSport United. Disappointed, yes. Angry, yes. Surprised, definitely not.
Throughout his amazing season at City, the one thread that has always been tangible during the coach’s official interviews and friendly chats with the media is the word “ambition”. On many occasions he has said: “I am an ambitious coach.”
And it’s that same word he used to inspire and motivate City’s players. In short, it was because the players were on the same page as Tinkler, with regards to ambition, that the Cape side was able to make such a sensational impact in its debut season in the PSL.
But, now, that same word – ambition – has probably come back to haunt City. As a player, Tinkler’s drive and determination were founded on his aspiration to be better, to always challenge himself against the best. And, listening regularly to Tinkler engage the media during last season, I was always struck by the reverberating echo of his philosophy of ambition, and his almost pathological craving for success and achievement.
As such, I always expected that, when a big club came along, Tinkler would jump at the opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with that As City’s boss John Comitis says: “Every person has their reasons for the decisions they make and we have to respect that.”
Let me also add, for those who are thinking it, this is not about money. I can assure you that, whatever Tinkler was offered at SuperSport, Comitis was fully prepared to match. This is about that word again: Ambition.
As much as the Capetonians have done well this season, they are still only taking baby steps. In time to come, no doubt, as their brand grows, they will be able to take their place in an elevated pecking order in the PSL. In contrast, SuperSport are an established, high-profile club, capable of fulfilling Tinkler’s ambitious desires.
It was also evident that Tinkler was extremely frustrated at the lack of structure at City. Training was a nightmare, with the squad constantly having to change venues. It wasn’t ideal, and Tinkler made his unhappiness known. At SuperSport, there will be no such problems – the structures are there, the facilities are in place and, in truth, every whim of the coach will be catered for.
While City will be competing in the Caf Confederation Cup next season, Tinkler would still have needed lots of work to prepare and strengthen the squad for the event. SuperSport, on the other hand, are already in the group stages of this season’s Confederation Cup – and Tinkler, when he takes charge, will have at his disposal a ready-made squad with class and quality in depth.
The big question, though, is whether Tinkler has made the right decision, at the right time. Considering the great work he has done at City, and considering that he could’ve continued to build on the exciting team he had started, perhaps seeing out his three-year contract should’ve been the preferred option.
After which, it would have been time for him to tackle a new challenge. Tinkler, instead, has opted to fast-track his ambition with the move to SuperSport. In months to come, we will know whether he has made the right decision. For his sake, I hope so. Football, as they always say, can be a cruel, cruel game.
It emphasises, yet again, that there is no loyalty in modern-day sport. As a club, as an owner, it’s never wise to place too much trust in any player or coach. Rest assured, when the chips are down, it’s the individual’s own agenda that comes first, not the club he’s at. And that’s not in any way a criticism of Tinkler’s decision, just a comment on the general state of our current society, and the mood of the prevailing climate of the times.
The whole scenario also places into context the view that the Cape is but a bit player in the grander scheme of things in football.
When Comitis established City in June last year, he emphasised that he had done so for football in the Mother City, that he wanted the Cape to have a club capable of mixing it with the big teams in the PSL. They certainly did so last season, both on and off the field.
But Cape football is always just a blip on the radar. It’ll flicker brightly on occasion – but, when it comes down to the crux, when decisions matter, Gauteng will always be the cradle of the local game. And, for Tinkler, in weighing up City and SuperSport, he more than likely felt that a move back to the spotlight in Gauteng would better suit his immediate plans.
It is to be hoped that, in years to come, Comitis’ vision will come to fruition, and Cape football will be able to change this perception. (But let’s also strongly stress that, if the Mother City is to play on a level field to compete with Gauteng, it’s going to need the City of Cape Town to play a stronger, more influential role in supporting the sport).
As for City, and its growing legion of supporters, there’s no need to panic. To quote one of my favourite poets, Robert Frost: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”
So, too, let me say, in my decades in Cape football, as a player and a writer, the same applies: Football, like life, goes on. It doesn’t come to an end because of one departure. As Comitis told me yesterday morning: “This club is bigger than any individual.” I echo those words.
City are set to announce Tinkler’s replacement next week.