CAPE TOWN - Football’s capacity for whimsy and nostalgia, and for eliciting moments of irony and wonder, was on full display when PSL champions Wits took on Cape Town City in a pre-season training friendly in Stellenbosch last Friday.
In 1995, shortly after an injury-plagued Gavin Hunt was forced to give up a successful playing career with Hellenic and was coaching Seven Stars, he gave a precocious 17-year-old Hanover Park lad called Benni McCarthy a debut in senior football. And there’s no need to elaborate on what McCarthy went on to achieve in the sport
On Friday, in one of those peculiar twists of fate so common to football, newly-appointed City coach McCarthy was opposing his mentor Hunt, now the coach of PSL title-winning Wits.
Wits took the friendly 1-0, with a goal from Kuils River’s Eleazar Rodgers - but the result, of course, wasn’t all that important. For both coaches, it was just an opportunity to run the rule over what their players had to offer, to test combinations, and to get a feel for the grass ahead of the new PSL season.
“It just makes me feel old,” laughed Hunt. “When he (McCarthy) started playing, I was coaching. Now he’s finished playing, and I’m still coaching. But I’m sure he will do well, and I certainly wish him the best.”
Hunt, the current Coach of the Season, has now won the PSL title on four occasions (three with SuperSport and last season with Wits). A Capetonian, he loves bringing teams to the Mother City for a pre-season training camp.
“It’s all about team bonding at this stage,” said Hunt. “It’s about team work, and trying out different styles and patterns with the squad. I like to come to Cape Town for pre-season because of the competitiveness of the friendlies. There are a lot of teams here - and, for me, it’s the competitiveness that is important.”
After playing City on Friday, Wits faced Ajax Cape Town in Parow the following day. The Cape side won 2-1, courtesy of an own goal and one from striker Thomas Chideu, while Wits’ reply came from the boot of Vincent Pule.
For Ajax coach Stanley Menzo, the game was a great exercise to have a look at some of the trialists in his squad.
“It was nice to win against Wits, but it’s only pre-season,” said the former Ajax Amsterdam goalkeeper now in charge of the Cape side. “It was good to play the game We had some good moments and we saw some of the new players we have at the club at the moment.
"We will have to make some decisions soon about them because we cannot keep them too long. We have to let them know if we are interested or not. We need some new players to operate the team. They are there, but we need to find them.”
Among the players trying their luck at Ajax are Khulegani Madondo, who has turned out for AmaZulu, Wits and Maritzburg United, and Nigerian attacking midfielder Ejike Uzoenyi, who has been on the books of Mamelodi Sundowns.
Menzo said he was impressed with Madondo and will allow him to stay a while longer as he continues to assess whether he wants the player or not.
As for new signing Sedwyn George, the Ajax coach was happy with what he has seen from the striker who topped the scoring charts in the NFD last season.
“He has definitely got an eye for goal,” said Menzo of George.
The Ajax coach also, again, took the opportunity to comment on the Rivaldo Coetzee situation. The 20-year-old Bafana Bafana central defender has not returned to training as he takes a stand in his dispute with the club.
“I’m very disappointed in him,” said Menzo. “This is football and it’s important to remember that it is a small world. What he has done shows that he has no respect for me or his teammates. If he has an issue with the club, keep it with the club, but don’t bring it to your teammates. It’s not good, it’s petty, and it’s a pity.”