CAPE TOWN – City winger Lyle Lakay gave some insight into why the presence of Benni McCarthy as coach has such an emotional impact on players who grew up on the streets of the Mother City.
Lakay is originally from Silvertown in Athlone and, as a junior footballer, was always touted for a professional career. After junior stints at Stephanians-Ottery, Hellenic and the Old Mutual Academy, he signed for SuperSport United in 2009. He then spent five years at Bloemfontein Celtic before joining City in July last year.
Now, in his first season at City, Lakay revealed that the former Bafana Bafana striker’s presence is always an inspiration - and, because of that, as a player, you always endeavour to drive yourself harder, and higher.
“Every boy growing up in Cape Town looked up to Benni when he was a player,” said Lakay.
“I’m no different. Because of that, there is no need for motivation, you just know that you have to go out and give your best. Just from the type of player that Benni was, and where he came from, you know that you want to push yourself for the coach.”
They say introspection is such an important prerequisite for a professional footballer. Don’t get carried away, stay grounded and analyse performances with searching honesty. Lakay is such a footballer and, as the campaign draws to a close, he didn’t hesitate to give a frank assessment of his time at the club.
But, having spent much of his career up north, with SuperSport and Celtic, Lakay’s return home to Cape Town, though, wasn’t without controversy as he was on the verge of taking his former club Celtic to court because of a contractual dispute.
At the time, last year, he was set to sign for Wits when City boss John Comitis nipped in to persuade the player to come back home, dangling the appointment of McCarthy as coach as a hook. Needless to say, Lakay was keen - and Comitis then also avoided any possible court or arbitration issues around the contract with a swop deal arranged that would see Given Mashinkinya join Celtic.
So, with all the off-field problems attended to, Lakay could just knuckle down and do what he does best: play football. He has become a vital part of McCarthy’s squad, with his pace and guile down the flanks critical to the team’s attacking approach.
The 26-year-old, though, honest as ever, admits that he is not entirely happy with the way things have gone for him this season.
“In the same way that the team has been up and down, so, too, I think my season has been up and down,” said Lakay.
“I don’t think I’ve done too badly, but I also haven’t done very well. If you look at the statistics, I’ve got three goals and I’m the highest with assists in all competitions, but I do believe that I could have contributed much, much more this season.
“It’s my first year at City, and it’s Benni’s first year as a coach. We are still in a good log position, so it hasn’t been all bad. The big problem, of course, has been scoring goals.”
“We just haven’t been able to convert the chances we create into goals. If we had been able to score more regularly, I am confident that we would have been competing with Sundowns for the PSL title.”
City have three games remaining in the campaign - Polokwane City (away), Orlando Pirates (home) and AmaZulu (away) - and, with the club currently in sixth position on the PSL standings, McCarthy has set the players a top-four finish as the target.
“The aim now is to finish in the top four, but it won’t be easy,” said Lakay.