City decided to reappoint Eric Tinkler last off-season after the departure of Jan Olde Riekerink. The former Barnsley midfielder was the side’s initial coach after being formed in 2016 and this felt like a really good fit. After a few seasons of inconsistent performances with plenty of goals leaked, Tinkler did an incredible job and finished in the CAF Champions League places having ended second. What will the new season hold as John Comitis’ club plays in Africa’s showpiece competition for the first time?
Last Season – Runners Up
It was an incredible league season for City last time out as they finished second, their best placing in the six seasons of their existence (beating third place, also under Tinker, in 2016). The second half of the campaign was especially brilliant with just eight goals conceded in the final 15 league matches. The early weeks saw the coach focus on team shape and defensive structure as Nathan Fasika was integrated into the backline and most matches were fairly dull – City didn’t create a great deal but also allowed very few chances to their opponents. The first half-dozen PSL fixtures saw just one win, but their final 21 matches brought just two defeats.
Their second place finish was all the more remarkable because they were the division’s second-lowest scorers on the road, scoring in only six of their 15 matches away from the Mother City. Tinkler’s preseason and early doors work on being hard to beat came to the fore in away matches as their final ten away fixtures brought seven clean sheets. When you factor in the sales of their two best players, forwards Bradley Ralani and Fagrie Lakay, in January, it was a truly remarkable coaching feat in 2022 especially.
Much of their finishing position owes to their home form where only Western Cape rivals Stellenbosch FC tasted victory. City went 13 unbeaten after that 3-0 trouncing with eight wins and five draws. Aside from the excellent recruitment of Fasika, Tinkler’s smartest move was converting Khayisa Mayo from a winger into a striker in the second half of the season to replace the outgoing Lakay. He netted four goals in six league games at the start of 2022 although his season finished with a seven-game goal drought. Cameroonian midfielder Brice Ambina arrived in the January window and although he only played 11 matches, his impact was huge in the engine room.
Tinkler also genuinely integrated plenty of youth players with meaningful minutes in the form of PSL starts, not just short substitute runouts. Patrick Fisher, Taahir Goedeman, Jaedin Rhodes, and Mogamat May were all named in the starting XI on plenty of occasions between them and it’s exciting to see what happens to that quarter this season. Ashley Nel and Luke Daniels are two young strikers who we could see break into the picture in the coming months too.
After losing some big hitters over the last few transfer windows, City’s squad has had quite a lot of player turnover. They’ve gone for a quieter window this time and greater continuity with only a couple of players departing. Other PSL clubs could learn a thing or two. Goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh left a year ago and his replacement, Darren Keet spent almost all season out injured. Hugo Marques did a great job and those two will now compete for the number one jersey with Keet fulfilling the cliché of being ‘like a new signing’.
The side have only signed two new players at this stage in the inverted left winger and Jack Grealish doppelganger Jordan Bender and vastly experienced fullback Marc Van Heerden. The latter provides cover for Terrence Mashego after the latter’s knee surgery and could plug gaps at left central defender in a back three too. It looks close to certain that Lebogang Manyama will soon sign on the dotted line after his release from Kaizer Chiefs. The former City captain will bring experience and pedigree and could play as a false nine at times perhaps because Lakay has still not been directly replaced.
Left-footed right winger Kajally Drammeh finally has a work permit after joining in January and the Gambian will increase options, with talk of his potential impact getting louder. He is yet to make his debut so is effectively a new addition too. Once Manyama recovers from a knee operation and is confirmed as a City player, you’d imagine that will complete the transfer business unless there’s a serious injury or an opportunistic move for a loanee from one of the big three.
CAF Will Test The Depth
City’s squad is quite heavy in some areas, especially central midfield after the emergence of Goedeman and Ambina’s January arrival. Having experienced guys like Mpho Makola will be useful for CAF matches though but also as a rotation option before and after continental commitments. Centre back is a bit of a worry because the drop-off from Taariq Fielies and Fasika is so big to Keanu Cupido. There also isn’t a specialist fourth centre back which could come back to haunt City if injuries occur (with Van Heerden and Mokeke in line to deputise in an emergency).
Some players’ situations are intriguing, not least where Mduduzi Mdantsane fits in once Manyama is up to speed and where Thabo Nodada plays. He was used in a wider role at times last season and suits an attacking position where his energy can be maximised and his tactical indiscipline is concealed. Much more will be expected of Darwin Gonzalez on the left now that he has settled in and Mayo will need to be improving up-front and add more goals to his game.
Tinkler is a smart coach and has some versatile players and some with specific skill-sets who can become tactical chess pieces. Craig Martin exemplifies that with his ability to play in a defensive role to defend very pacey opponents as well as playing up front at times to lead counters attacks against slower defences (or teams chasing the game recklessly). Make no mistake, the CAF Champions League will be a huge step for the club to take in its journey but also a real burden on the legs of the players. We know City are not good travellers and coming back from games in North Africa or Guinea will test their resolve hugely. An injury at centre back will mean they can’t focus on a clean sheets first-and-foremost approach and that could expose their lack of firepower.
Expectations should be tempered this season. A dip in form is certain once the Champions League starts. Repeating a top two finish looks highly improbable but finishing in the top six and pushing hard to get out of their CAF group would equate to a good season.