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Learning curve was a roller coaster ride

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City got off to a wonderful start, brushing teams aside in the league and qualifying for the MTN8 final.

Benni McCarthy coach of Cape Town City during the Absa Premiership match between Kaizer Chiefs and Cape Town City on 17 February 2018 at FNB Stadium Pic Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Benni McCarthy (pictured) is currently in Northern Ireland to complete his Uefa Pro-coaching licence.

On his return, the Cape Town City coach will tackle the final game of the Absa Premiership season – an away game to AmaZulu next week Saturday. That fixture will signal the end of McCarthy’s debut season as a head coach.

It has been an absolute roller-coaster ride for the former Bafana Bafana striker.

After Eric Tinkler suddenly quit City, club boss John Comitis sprang a major surprise by appointing the untried, untested and inexperienced McCarthy as the new head coach in June last year.

Initially, though, it proved to be an inspired decision. City got off to a wonderful start, brushing teams aside in the league and qualifying for the MTN8 final.

Tide turned

They went on to lose the final to Tinkler’s new club, SuperSport United, coincidently the moment when the tide turned against the Cape Town club. Inconsistency set in, the goals dried up and, for the rest of the campaign, McCarthy’s real education as a coach began.

McCarthy acknowledges that it has been a tough learning curve, but the experience, as he says, has made him “one year wiser”. And, with the benefit of that year’s knowledge and experience under the belt, he is confident that he will continue to mature as a coach.

In football, as with anything in life, there is no limit to learning. This has always been McCarthy’s motto, which is why he will continue to internally store every moment, every game situation, every decision and every 90 minute as he plots his future steps and decisions as a coach.

Before jetting off to Northern Ireland, he revealed what he believed was the most difficult challenge in his rookie season.

“It has to be dealing with the personalities of players in the squad,” said McCarthy. “There are so many – everybody is different and, as a coach, you cannot please everyone. I found it difficult in trying to make everybody in the squad comfortable. There are 26 players in the squad and only 11 can play. So, you pick the team and the players on the bench, and those left out look at you like King Kong.

“I admit there are times I made mistakes, but I can’t see everything. But I think I’ve learnt from the experience this season – and I know that I have to manage the squad of players better. In that way, I won’t have players drifting because they can’t get into the team.”

The other aspect McCarthy alluded to was the off-field challenges.

“Look, nothing is always roses,” he said. “Football has its ups and downs and, as a player and a coach, you have to accept it. You can’t always just have it your way. In Europe, the manager is in charge, he calls the shots, period. Here, it works a little differently. I’m fortunate that, in (Comitis), I have an owner who allows me some freedom. But, overall, this season has allowed me to see how things operate in the boardroom – and how to deal better with it in the future.”

Challenges there may have been for McCarthy, but the one thing he has been unequivocal about his team’s style of play. They played some of the best build-up, passing football in the PSL, oozing confidence in possession. It was only in the final third where McCarthy’s men lacked a reliable goal-getter, and where the decision-making left a lot to be desired.

“My approach to the game is to have players who are comfortable on the ball,” explained McCarthy. “Because of it, City were able to play some good football this season. It was just the finishing touches that were absent but, having learnt from my first season in charge, I am confident that we will be better in the final third next season.”

Despite the challenges, despite the difficulties, City are still in the top half of the PSL standings, and in contention for a top four or five finish. There is nothing wrong with that for a first time coach, now is there?