CAPE TOWN – Benni McCarthy, the coach, is on the rise. And, now that he is in possession of a Uefa Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification in Europe, his coaching star is likely to shine even brighter.
As coach of Cape Town City, McCarthy has made rapid progress. In just his second season in charge, he has already steered the team to two cup finals, and they finished fifth on the PSL standings last season. While he lost in last season’s MTN8 final, he was able to make amends this season, and in in the process win his first-ever trophy as a coach when City defeated SuperSport United in the MTN8 competition.
But all of the above, of course, is on paper. If you want some insight into the inner, more tangible, workings of McCarthy on the training field and in the dressing-room, with regard to how he prepares and motivates his squad, then the people to ask are his two assistant-coaches: Vasili Manousakis and Rayaan Jacobs. The duo works very closely with McCarthy; they are at his side every day and they see first-hand how he operates.
“Benni’s strengths are his knowledge of the game,” said Manousakis. “He can draw on the football experience he picked up from playing at the level that he has. He’s tasted all kinds of football – Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and English – and he’s played under world-class managers; he’s been with the SA national team, where he’s played all over Africa.
You cannot buy that type of experience. You can’t teach him anything about being in a football dressing-room. Now that he is a coach, he is able to cherry-pick the best traits from those managers he worked with as a player.
“Most of all, though, his biggest asset is his desire to succeed. He is a born winner. It’s probably something he would have had when he first went overseas as a teenager and told himself ‘I’m gonna make it’. He is the very same now – he never gives up. Ask any of his players, he just hates to lose.
Whether it’s a training game or a five-a-side kick-around, he wants to win. Even in gaining the prestigious Uefa Pro Licence, it would have been the same attitude: when he puts his mind to something, he goes out and gets it.”
Jacobs said: “Over the years, I've been privileged to work with many coaches, no less than 18 in the PSL, but none so liked and respected by all players, the technical team and club staff. He’s an honest coach, he speaks from the heart and all his messages are packed with emotion and desire. It's clear to see why he made it as a player – he has a winning mentality.
At training, he strives for excellence and gets upset when players don’t give 100 percent. He has his vision on how football must be played and he strives for continuity in his preparation.”
But coaching is not just about what happens at training. It’s also about personality, understanding and empathy – and it’s about how the coach relates to the people around him. McCarthy, from his days as a player, understands the need for inclusivity. Dictators don’t survive very long in football.
“It is a privilege to work with Benni,” said Manousakis. “As a member of the technical staff, I can tell you that he gets to know us as people. He wants to know who you are. He is interested in you, your family, your kids, and he’s very good at picking up when anybody around him is not feeling well; he notices behavioural changes. As a coach, he is smart, he is sharp.
“Also, as a coach, he doesn’t fear his job when it comes to his technical staff. He trusts the people he works with. Many coaches prefer to be closed books, so they can have 150 percent control of things – but Benni’s management style is inclusive and he allows us, as assistants, to participate.
We do drills, he asks for our opinion, and he values our input and advice. Of course, he’s still the boss, and working with him you know it. All in all, he is able to create an environment of cohesion and spirit, with the ultimate goal of bringing success to the team.”
Jacobs, too, appreciates the fact that McCarthy doesn’t see his assistants as the guys who put out the cones for the coach. He gives them the space to grow as coaches in their own right.
“He is extremely trustworthy as a head coach,” said Jacobs. “He is comfortable enough to delegate and allow us technical team members to express our ideas and methods, while at the same time being firm enough to draw the line. Not many coaches give this much freedom to their support staff, mainly out of fear and insecurities.
I've seen many other head coaches shut down ideas because it wasn’t theirs. Benni knows the value of teamwork and always talks about an all-encompassing effort to get the job done. He never excludes anyone. Overall, he may be a coach who is figuring out his own style, but, importantly, he brings his team along for the journey.”
There was McCarthy the player and, now, there’s McCarthy the coach. But there is also McCarthy the celebrity. How does he cope with all the adulation?
“He may be a South African legend, but he is extremely compassionate,” said Manousakis. “He has time for everybody. As a team, we are in airports, buses and gyms, in many public places, and people just don’t leave him alone.
But he always has time for pictures and a chat with fans. He never says no – because he knows what it took to get to where he is now.”