Vasili Manousakis may not be all that well-known, he may not have extensive top-flight coaching experience and he’s currently in an assistant position coveted by many top former PSL players - but, what he does have, in spades, is the faith and confidence of Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy.
With McCarthy red-carded in last week’s Cape derby, after a fiery altercation with Ajax Cape Town coach Muhsin Ertugral, he will have to watch Sunday’s PSL fixture against Bloemfontein Celtic from the stands, while assistant coach Manousakis calls the shots from the bench.
Manousakis doesn’t see the elevation as deviating from his primary role of assisting McCarthy to make the club as successful as it can be. In the end, as far as he is concerned, it’s still about following the instructions of the man in charge.
“Even though I’m on the bench, things won’t change too much,” said Manousakis. “For all our games, we have a pre-set plan, including an approach for various eventualities during the game. We know which players have come back from injury, we know which players are struggling a little, we know who we can push and who we have to monitor. Benni and I will discuss things before the game, and we’ll take it from there.
“As for Celtic, we are expecting a difficult encounter, they are always tough to play at their home ground. After the defeat to Free State Stars, we responded well in winning the derby and we are confident we can take it from there, and build on it. In any case, if we want to stay in touch with Sundowns at the top of the log, this is the type of game we should be grinding out.”
As a player, Manousakis spent time at amateur clubs like Hellas, Salesians and Edgemead - and it was at the latter where he was fortunate to play alongside former PSL stars like Andrew Tucker, Grant Young and Shaun Bester (all Hellenic). His coaching experience was then honed at the Ajax academy, where he started off as Duncan Crowie’s assistant with the Under-17s a few years ago. He coached FC Cape Town’s Second Division side and, after the formation of City, he took the new club’s U19 team to the semi-finals of the popular Bayhill Premier Cup.
Manousakis then spent a while in City’s administrative wing, as the club’s football general manager - in essence, club boss John Comitis’ number two - before being asked to be assistant coach.
When former assistant coach Ian Taylor left City for a position at Ajax Amsterdam’s youth academy, there was a vacancy to fill. A number of high-profile candidates threw their CVs into the ring, including David Notoane, MacBeth Sibiya and Ricardo Katza, to name a few. But when Comitis told McCarthy, “you choose”, the former Bafana Bafana striker said: “I’ll take Vasili.”
Initially, it was only meant to be for the three games in December before the festive break, but Manousakis’ interim role in the position has now stretched to the whole of January. It’s patently obvious that McCarthy has great faith in his assistant’s support and counsel, and he will definitely have no concern when Manousakis runs the show from the bench on Sunday.
But, and here’s the crazy thing, nobody may know who Manousakis is, but everybody across South Africa probably knows his seven-year-old son, Mateo. Yes, believe it or not, the son is more famous than the dad.
Mateo has become a social-media phenomenon. As the City mascot, the kid’s performances in leading the City players during their pre-match singing routines has regularly gone viral on Twitter, so much so that he is even now part of the club’s marketing and promotion strategies.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” said Manousakis about his son’s popularity on social media. “He’s always showed interest in football, even back when he was four or five. But I think at City it’s just the amazing team spirit that took him in. For him, it’s not about Man United, or Chelsea or Liverpool, it’s all about the PSL.”