JOHANNESBURG - It’s keeping Cape Town City in the top flight that will be Benni McCarthy’s greatest achievement in his first season as coach, the former Bafana Bafana striker says, not winning a trophy or beating Orlando Pirates 1-0 in the last 16 of the Nedbank Cup.
McCarthy explained that he still “secretly” harbours hopes of unexpectedly clinching the Absa Premiership by somehow toppling leaders Mamelodi Sundowns despite City trailing them by nine points with six games to go.
But what truly warms his heart is the fact that he would have been able to retain the club’s Premiership status after chairman John Comitis took a gamble by opting for someone as inexperienced as he is over veteran coach Muhsin Ertugral and several other candidates when Eric Tinkler left for SuperSport United at the start of the campaign.
“The chairman has ostrich huevos - a lot of courage - to give someone like me an opportunity. It’s the first time ever that I am in the hot seat. A lot of people don’t believe that former players have the ability to be head coaches. They don’t trust us,” McCarthy said.
“They prefer the merry-go-round coaches. People like Shaun Bartlett tried, but people don’t want to take a chance anymore. Fadlu (Davids, at Maritzburg United) has always been there, an internship or in the interim, and then they take an experienced coach.
"They (club bosses) never really want to invest in us. It’s nice that you are seeing more and more ex-players are getting the opportunity. Young coaches are coming out and are not afraid to fail because this job, if you take it, there are no guarantees in hell that you will be successful.
"You have to fail along the way. So I am happy that I have taken the team out of the relegation zone. We are still in the top eight and I am only learning and will only get better.”
McCarthy said perhaps next season he can adjust his targets.
“I will then be a little more experienced, with a year under my belt. If I am still here, I can kick off from there. My target has always been to help the team get a top eight finish because then it is a little bit respectable,” he explained.
“The team finished third last season, but I am not sure we are capable of doing that again. But after what I saw in us beating Pirates, it means the boys are still up for a fight and there are six games to go, a lot of points to play for - maybe we can finish in second, better than last season. That is secretly what I want. I would take top eight because I have never coached anywhere, not even Under-10 or 12. Zero. Nada. Fokol.”
Asked whether knocking Pirates out of the Nedbank Cup ranked top of his list of achievements since taking on the job, McCarthy said beating reigning league champions Bidvest Wits four times this season - once in the league, twice in the MTN8 and again in the Nedbank Cup - remains his biggest accomplishment to date.
“It was against the coach that started it all for me,” said McCarthy, whose career as a footballer at 17 was launched by Clever Boys mentor Gavin Hunt. “And they are the current champions.
"Every time you beat them that’s a massive victory. We have also beaten African champions Sundowns along the way as well. It’s great to beat Pirates in the form that they are in, but I wouldn’t give them that much credit by saying that’s the biggest victory for the team.”