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The Penny Drops… Benni’s Tops!

Did you see Thamsanqa Mkhize’s goal? What was the fullback doing so high up the pitch in the first place? What about Craig Martin’s stunner of a volley that would have rendered even some of the most recognised goalkeepers in the world immovable creatures? What’s not been said about Kermit Erasmus before, who held up the ball so well in the last third and shielded the opposition defenders in such a way that he resembled a mother carrying a baby on her back? Stuff like this you can’t make up.
 
These days it’s hard to miss a Cape Town City match and their performance against Highlands Park in the Nedbank Cup Last 16 at Cape Town Stadium last Friday was poetry in motion. To think that Teko Modise, who is mellowing like fine wine these days, and Surprise Ralani, who is so adept at combining European tactical discipline with township shukela, have not even received a mention yet. But the one person who really deserves all the attention is head coach Benni McCarthy – well, at least according to this writer. I must admit I was nonplussed and anxious at the same time when I first heard he was interested in becoming a coach and, to that end, would be embarking on coaching courses overseas. Not belligerent and rebellious Benni, I thought to myself.
 
Not the so-called prima donna who would dare the SAFA hierarchy whenever he felt like it in his playing days. Not the striker who would tell opposition defenders how much he was earning whenever they had him in their pockets whilst in a Bafana Bafana jersey. How would such a hotheaded personality, at the best of times, morph into a straight-thinking coach able to impart some sense of discipline into his charges, I wondered. As he sat in the classroom in pursuit of his coaching badges halfway around the globe, back in South Africa I imagined his teams to be ones where, if his players were remonstrating with the referee about a certain decision in the game, he would get in on the act without a second thought. Honestly, in my medulla oblongata, that was Benni McCarthy the coach. 
 
But since he took charge of the Cape outfit, succeeding Eric Tinkler at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, I have been having large helpings of humble pie. I am most happy, though, to witness the metamorphosis of Benni in terms of personality and in how he deals with certain situations, although some will be quick to point out that he can be a tad overzealous in his criticism of referees. At least he’s honest, I offer. At times it becomes so entertaining to see coaches choosing their words so carefully in post-match interviews for fear of upsetting the people who wield power and who need no second invitation to cut a coach to size with a hefty fine or suspension for a foul-mouthed rant. A case in point was Owen da Gama following his team’s loss to City. He was clearly not happy that his team was denied a goal, with the ball appearing to have crossed the line, but even with the benefit of replay that was handed to him by SuperSport TV, “Rubber Doll” had the good sense to discipline his tongue. Even after the presenter seemed to imply they were robbed, he was quick to interject, “No, no, no, we were not robbed. It was just unfair…” Yawn. The issue of coaches and the sword hovering dangerously above their heads at the slightest slip of the tongue is a story for another day though. 
 
The argument that good players don’t necessarily make good coaches holds true. I’ll take it a step further and say the kind of player one was, does not determine the kind of coach one will be. The case of one Jomo Sono is a curious one. We are talking here about a man who possessed dribbling wizardry rivalled only by a few in his era and who could make the ball speak his language. The Black Prince of SA football could bend a free kick with precision long before David Beckham met Victoria. But he would later coach a Jomo Cosmos side that earned a reputation as a team that “broke opponents’ legs”. Ironic… 
 
One thing I have noticed about Benni, which may be what separates him from the rest even so early in his coaching career, is that he is a pretty damn good “halftime coach” (if ever there was such). By that I mean he does not just use the halftime break as a period to drink water or scratch his head thinking of what went wrong in the first half – he gives it to his players if he feels like they are slacking off. According to him, he and Martin “had a big fight” in the dressing room at halftime, and the player went on to silence his coach with that well-taken volley. There is a precedent: in their match against Bloemfontein Celtic on December 22 last year, their last before the festive season break, the Citizens trailed 2-0 at the interval. No Christmas break for you with this sort of lethargy, in front of your home fans nogal, he threatened. The result? Ralani scored two quick-fire goals and set up Siphelele Mthembu, to help the club secure a 3-2 victory. Unbelievable! 
 
These players have a gem in Benni in that he has played with and against some of the best football stars this land has seen, and he will quickly see if a player is cutting corners. His charges are then able to feed off the passion he has for the game. To him, respect for the fans is paramount and his side has no business losing at home, let alone giving a below-par performance. One gets the feeling that this City side, under the tutelage of the former FC Porto striker, is going places, just as long as the players keep to their end of the bargain. 
 
His name is Benedict and he is not a pope. Yet to his players, he can do no wrong. It’s a fascinating unfolding story.
 
Catch y’all on the rebound,
Lunga 
 

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