CAPE TOWN - Taariq Fielies has come from nowhere to land a spot in the centre of Cape Town City’s defence. His elevation to the starting team may have been a surprise to many, but the 25-year-old justified his selection with a valiant, fiery performance in the Cape side’s 1-0 win over Wits in the MTN8 first leg semi-final at the weekend.
Fielies signed for City last month after impressing head coach Benni McCarthy during a trial period. The initial impression, though, was probably that he would be a squad member, have his progress monitored, and then be utilised when injury or suspension hit the Cape club during the season. But, if anything, and it’s here where McCarthy has revealed a natural instinct for coaching, the Fielies script was torn up and re-written.
Last week, in a PSL match against Platinum Stars, McCarthy rested a few players - with the Wits clash in mind - including regular central defender Tshepo Gumede. Fielies was brought in to cover for Gumede, and he played out of his skin.
The City coach was highly impressed and afterwards said: “Taariq gave me that old-fashion Cape Town attitude that I know so well. You know, when you play with your heart, when you give everything and don’t worry about what comes next week. Only the present 90 minutes matter”
So, based on that, McCarthy had a tough selection poser for the crucial Cup clash against Wits - Gumede or Fielies? The former Bafana Bafana striker opted to pick the player who had grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
“I went for Taariq because I wanted warriors against Wits,” said McCarthy. “I wanted a defender who doesn’t take risks and who kicks the hell out of strikers. Taariq is just in his second game for us, but he has played with heart; you can see his passion for the game in the way he plays.”
For Fielies, it has been a long trek to get to the PSL - and he’s determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground. He knows competition for places at City is tough; he is aware that he will have to keep working hard and keep delivering top performances if he is to hang on to his place.
From Salt River, Fielies also spent time growing up in Phoenix Village in Milnerton. He attended Wesley Primary and Salt River High School, and played for Salt River FC and Rygersdal before joining the Ajax Cape Town youth academy. He was promoted to the Ajax PSL squad, but only managed one appearance in 2012 before he was considered surplus to requirements.
Fielies then spent one year on loan at Milano United in the NFD, after which he penned a three-year deal with the Grassy Park side. But, even so, the PSL bug had never left; he was still determined to prove he could perform at the highest level.
“With my contract at Milano at an end, a scout from City approached me,” said Fielies. “We had a few discussions and I went on trial with the club. The head coach (McCarthy) liked what he saw and they offered me a contract.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to get into the starting team so soon. I thought they would probably save me for a busy time of the season when they wanted to rest players, or when they had injuries. But last week, against Platinum, the coach rotated the team and gave me an opportunity - I took my chance and I’ve now played two games in a row. It couldn’t be better.”
Having come from four years of playing in the NFD, what does Fielies make of the jump to the PSL?
“In the NFD, everything is energetic and quick, the football is up and down all the time,” he said. “In the PSL, you get a bit more time on the ball - but, importantly, at this level, you cannot afford to make mistakes; teams will punish you. The most important thing about the PSL is to do the basics well.”
Now, as City prepare for the second leg against Wits on 10 September, Fielies has stressed the need to stay grounded.
“That was just the first leg, but at least we have something to defend when we go there for the second leg,” he said. “But if we can perform as we have in recent games, then I think we can get a positive result.”