City’s decision to bring Eric Tinkler to the club has proven a masterstroke. The coach has delivered 2nd place and then 4th place despite the sale of some of his best players. Although the window isn’t shut, Cape Town City have so far held onto their two key assets despite interest locally and from abroad. Can they push for a top two finish and look to win a domestic cup?
LAST SEASON – TOUGH START, STRONG END
Having finished second in the 2021-22 season, City won the same number of league matches last term (12) but ended fourth. The early part of the season was tough, and the club spent a lot of time in the bottom half after losing their opening three matches with two draws following that. The reasons for the difficulties were pretty clear as injuries hit their defence – with the preview a year ago stating a lack of cover at the back was a worry. Once Thami Mkhize and Taariq Fielies were fully fit and Nathan Fasika’s visa issues were sorted out, things improved somewhat. Another factor was the late sale of Terrence Mashego to Sundowns (and he had missed the start of the season with injury too), meaning a late move for Lyle Lakay on loan.
A run of eight points in four matches followed, but the side never really found consistency and properly pushed away from the bottom half until mid-February. City lost five of their 11 league matches from mid-October until early February with their first CAF Champions League campaign also proving a distraction. Successive defeats to Stellenbosch (3-2, after leading 2-0) and SuperSport United saw City languish just two points above the drop after 19 matches. Many other clubs’ owners would have made a change and fired Eric Tinkler (and the coach admitted as much himself).
Instead, the coach oversaw just one loss in the final 11 fixtures as a change of formation to a 3-4-3 formation paid dividends. Youngster Jaedin Rhodes and winger Darwin Gonzalez excelled down the flanks and Khanyisa Mayo’s move to centre forward saw him end the season in great form to reach 12 league goals and share the Golden Boot with Peter Shalulile. Overall, it was far from a season to remember. With 27 points from their final 15 matches – all the more impressive because nine of those were away games – optimism is high for a stronger start to the campaign ahead.
TWO KEY AREAS TO IMPROVE
Aside from needing to start seasons far better, City have two key aspects they need to address. Firstly, they received six red cards last season, the most in the league. Four of those came in the final six fixtures, and whilst most were not for violent conduct, the players need to show better individual game management to avoid second yellows.
Speaking of ‘game management’, City dropped 19 points last season from winning positions. There were the early-season defeats to Swallows and AmaZulu which could be put down to the defensive absentees. However, late-season points were thrown away at home to Marumo Gallants and AmaZulu from leading positions too and there are many other examples. Eric Tinkler will hope to see his side kill off opponents better next season and will also hope that his players can protect narrow leads better – perhaps by not dropping too deep and inviting pressure, a common sight and gripe of the coach in his post-match interviews.
Another quirk of last term was that City didn’t receive a penalty all season. Perhaps more dribbles into the box will draw some fouls and therefore some much-needed spot-kicks.
KEEP YOUR BEST PLAYERS
The number one rule of any transfer window is not who you sign, but to keep your best players. City have a smart and clear model to develop players and then to sell them on for big profits to either Mamelodi Sundowns or to clubs abroad (think Fagrie Lakay’s move to Pyramids FC). Whilst the transfer window still has almost a month to run, and we saw Mashego sold late in the window last season, City have so far held onto their two key assets.
Khanyisa Mayo had been strongly linked to Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns in the past but it appears that he will stay this season (never say never, though). Owner John Comitis has put a big price tag on his head, saying “Mayo’s value is in the excess of 2-million dollars, in my opinion”. He will need to deliver more consistently this season as most of his goal came in a hot streak last term. It is expected that he will play as a central striker for most of this season as opposed to being a right winger.
The other big player who remains at the club is Brice Ambina. The Cameroon midfielder looked set for a move to either the Middle East or Latvia but that transfer has so far not materialised. He is an excellent ball-winning midfielder, and a consistently excellent season ahead from him would surely attract a big move and transfer fee. Had City lost those two players, a difficult campaign may have been on the horizon and some scrambling may have been needed in the transfer market to find the next gem or some stopgap additions.
RECRUTIMENT & DEPTH CHART: DO CITY HAVE ENOUGH GOALSCORERS?
*Realistic options to play regularly – excludes fringe players
*Accurate up to 2 August 2023
City have had a quiet transfer window. The major sale was that of Mduduzi Mdantsane to Kaizer Chiefs. He is the club’s record goalscorer but his scoring from open play had majorly dried up over the last 18 months. If Juan Camilo Zapata steps up and scores more often in his first full season, then that could prove a smart sale for a good price to Amakhosi (particularly as Mdantsane had only a year left on his contract).
Last season, the additions were steady but none made a major impact. Lyle Lakay, Marc Van Heerden and Lorenzo Gordinho all did relatively well at the back. Further forward, the attackers recruited in Wayde Lekay, Jordan Bender and Bertrand Mani have all left already without creating any real stir. City have only made three signings in this window in Tshegofatso Nyama, Ramazani Tshimanga and Jó Paciência. The latter duo are foreigners and represent hopeful punts, especially the latter up front. Tshimanga is hoped to be as good as countryman Nathan Fasika ended up being and may cover until the latter is back from his serious knee injury around November. Nyama is a solid replacement for Lakay at left back or wingback.
Looking at the squad, there is depth at the back and plenty of experience to call upon. The central midfield looks pretty strong with Ambina staying although Thato Mokeke can’t go on forever and players like Taahir Goedeman and Relebogile Mokhuoane will hopefully step up to be consistent performers over the season.
The worry is in attack. There is a huge onus on Mayo to net at least 12 league goals again, if not closer to 15. Beyond him, Darwin Gonzalez is the only proven provider of goals and assists right now. Any injury to either of those sees City falling back on their still unproven foreigners and younger players. In terms of formation, it could be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 or the shape used towards the back-end of the campaign, a 3-4-3 shape with a box/diamond in midfield. Nyama and Gonzalez may play wide in that system with Rhodes further forward in support of Mayo. Tinkler is adaptable and pragmatic whilst still playing City’s attractive playing style.
VERDICT – MUCH DEPENDS ON TWO STAR MEN
In summary, if City keep everyone fit and their key men (Mayo and Ambina) hit their top level, then City could challenge for the top two or three places. If Mayo has a dip in scoring, then Eric Tinkler will need to rely on clean sheets and nicking goals from other sources to get wins. City needs to be more street-smart in 2023-24 to avoid red cards, win penalties, and protect leads. They also need to keep up their improved away form as that has been an Achilles heel for several years. It feels like the attack is at least one good goalscoring winger short and that may come back to bite them over the next nine months.