CAPE TOWN - The anticipation is building. After a sensational debut campaign last season, Cape Town City get the new season under way with a MTN8 quarter-final tie against Polokwane City at the Cape Town Stadium next Saturday.
The expectation is mounting. With Benni McCarthy, one of the Mother City’s most revered sporting sons installed as the new man in charge of City, there is frantic interest in just how he will go in his first stint as a head coach.
The excitement is almost tangible. The feverish murmuring starts in Green Point, it’s already building to a chattering frenzy throughout the streets of Cape Town, and the endless scrutiny and analysis have permeated every nook and cranny of the Cape Flats - from Manenberg to Mitchells Plain, from Kraaifontein to Khayelitsha.
By next week, as the days tick down to City’s opening fixture, it will have reached a crescendo. By match day, at the ground, in that iconic former World Cup venue in Green Point, on television, radio, social media, in the streets, pubs and shebeens, it will be all about City and McCarthy. In essence, what everybody will want to know is: How are City doing with McCarthy as coach?
Because this buzz of football animation is not just about the vibrant Cape football club - it’s also, importantly, about McCarthy, the kid who fought his way out of Hanover Park, with only his talent as a weapon, to grace the football fields of the world with panache and triumph.
A winner of the European Champions League, the all-time leading Bafana Bafana goalscorer, McCarthy has become a cult figure in South African sport.
So as City’s opening game consumes the country, the question everyone wants answered is whether his coaching career can emulate his playing success.
Everyone knows that next week’s first game won’t mean all that much in the greater scheme of things: the result, win or lose, won’t determine McCarthy’s future as a coach. He still has a long way to go in the next phase of his football career. He will learn, he will get better, and only in a few years’ time will be able to make a judgement.
But, for now, what South Africa wants to see in that opening game is what effect the presence of "Benni the coach" has had on City. The Cape PSL club performed remarkably well last season, surpassing even their own expectations, so what can McCarthy bring? How will City play? Who will be picked? How does he respond tactically in times of adversity? Has he inspired the strikers? Will City have the same admirable defensive discipline? All of these questions, and more, will be on display when City host Polokwane.
McCarthy, make no mistake, is fully aware of football supporters’ absorption as he make his official debut as a head coach; and he’s just as aware of the need to get City up and running right from the opening fixture.
“We’ve been working towards this moment, where we’ll have the opportunity to play our first competitive match,” said McCarthy. “This is what we’ve been waiting for It’s the only way to gauge whether or not we are ready. I’m happy that we have the fixture finalised and now we can put our focus fully on this match against Polokwane.
“The boys have done well. Since the very first day, we’ve been training with unbelievable intensity and to see the players step up another gear has been a great feeling.
"The guys who we have brought in are also playing their part to lift the team, so overall we are looking pretty good. More hard work is still to come. We’ve got to put our final preparations into training in the next week or so, and then, when the game comes, we will be ready.”
City caught many of the PSL teams by surprise last season. Established as a club just two months before the start of last season, they were an unknown entity. They nevertheless tackled the task with gusto, effervescent attacking play and sound defence.
Towards the end of the campaign, however, it was evident that the opposition was starting to work out their tactical approach. Coaches had done their homework, they had come prepared, and City were finding things a lot more difficult. It is, particularly, in this regard that it will be interesting to see how McCarthy approaches things next week. How different will his team be to the City that was so impressive last season?