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Why Benni’s Departure Had Been Coming… But City May Regret It

After a run of just two wins in their last 18 games – as per Cape Town City’s official club statement – Benni McCarthy has been sacked by the club. Have they made the right call?

So often in football, we say young players are developing and we should have patience with them. That sentiment rarely extends to young coaches though, this despite many showing that they are evolving and improving as they gain experience.

In his two-and-a-bit years as Cape Town City coach, Benni McCarthy has shown a fair amount of improvement as time has gone on. This applies not only to how he has evolved as a coach but also to the results within seasons – at least until recently.

Upon being appointed as Citizens coach, he had previously been an assistant coach in Belgium at Sint-Truiden and had done some short-term roles for experience at clubs in Scotland. His wife and family are currently living over there, whilst McCarthy did some of his coaching badges in Edinburgh.

First Season

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that City scored just 26 goals in 30 league games in Benni’s first campaign – that was the 13th most in the league.

There were two reasons for this. Chiefly, City could not score goals because their best players were sold – Lebogang Manyama in August and Aubrey Ngoma in January after being injured for almost all of Benni’s first few months in charge. Thato Mokeke also returned to SuperSport United after an impressive loan spell. Manyama and Ngoma had contributed an incredible 22 goals and 23 assists in the 2016-17 season and were impossible for the coach to replace internally.

Secondly, McCarthy appeared to be inspired by his mentor at Porto, Jose Mourinho, in playing ultra-defensively on certain occasions. Although his side generally dominated possession, they managed wins against Bidvest Wits and Orlando Pirates with less than 40% of the ball. For bigger games, an extra defensive midfielder in Mpho Matsi was selected.

That season ended on a poor note as City had a record from their final 14 league games of three wins, seven losses and four draws.

Benni’s First 16 League Games: 24 points

Benni’s Final 14 League Games: 13 points

McCarthy did lead City to a cup final as well but lost on penalties to SuperSport United in the MTN8. With a fifth-placed league finish to boot, it was a very good campaign overall considering the players sold but improvements were needed, as well as shedding the “Mourinho lite” label.

Second season

Last season, McCarthy arrived as a different coach in August. City were one of the most relentlessly attacking sides in the PSL, often to a fault. They scored 22 goals in their first 15 league games, tied-second most in the PSL, but conceded 22, tied-most in the division.

Once again, this was no huge shock having lost their captain, Robyn Johannes to Bidvest Wits. With him in the Clever Boys XI, Gavin Hunt’s men conceded just nine times in their opening 15 matches.

For the final 15 games though, City were a different beast. McCarthy got the side scoring even more, but they conceded a full nine goals less than in the first half of the campaign too. The 28 points accrued had them as outside contenders for the title at one point although they ended up fourth.

In September, he got revenge for the first cup final defeat by lifting silverware in the MTN8 against the same opponents, SuperSport. Such were the results achieved by City, and the incredibly exciting style of play, that McCarthy was linked with jobs at Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and even Bafana Bafana.

Of course, one glance at the league table shows that City have had a terrible start to this season, with just eight points from their first nine matches. Some context is needed, though, because the side have faced all of Chiefs, Pirates, Sundowns and SuperSport already. They drew three of those games and dominated the first half against Amakhosi before losing 2-1.

The reasonable results against the big sides show where the problem results-wise has been – drawing at home against Golden Arrows, losing at a struggling AmaZulu and at home to Maritzburg United.

The nine-game winless run across all competitions is of huge concern, especially as long winless runs also categorised his first season when the side went six games without victory at one stage and then last season, where the side went eight matches without a win. The team then won 12 of their next 17 games in all competitions though.

Has this been coming?

If you ask Benni McCarthy, he arguably foresaw these poor results, hence his consistent comments to the media about the need for former captain Robyn Johannes to return. The upturn in results at Stellenbosch FC since they signed the still-excellent veteran shows that Benni was probably right. Siyanda Xulu was also a target for the coach but City did not pursue a deal despite having Kwanda Mngonyama and Judas Moseamedi as bargaining chips.

After losing at home to Chiefs as his side crumbled under an assault of direct football, McCarthy told the press:

“It’s not rocket science for people to see. You can get away with it sometimes, but when you have a real test, you come up short when your full-back is playing centre-back.”

McCarthy took on the chairman again when he wanted to sign Mark Mayambela, he told the media:

“The chairman is the one – it’s his club, it’s his money, so he makes the decisions. I’m just here to coach the team. If I get him , I get him, but it’s out of my hands. Ask the money man. I’m just here to try and make the players better.”

These comments sound a lot like those by Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino throughout the recent transfer window in England. Both sides have started the season poorly with the coach and chairman not being on the same page. This struggle for power was only going to have one winner at Cape Town City as soon as results turned.

McCarthy has always wanted a big say in recruitment but after signing his friend Victor Obinna (a former teammate at West Ham) in his first season, perhaps signing on relationships from his playing days was always the wrong approach. It’s what City did in this window by adding Mpho Makola and Mark Mayambela, two veterans who were teammates of McCarthy at Orlando Pirates. Tokelo Rantie was also added based on playing history and flopped, like Obinna.

What next?

Firstly, it’s quite possible that McCarthy realised he would have trouble turning around the defensive issues having not been granted Johannes’ signature and then again with the recent injury to goalkeeper, Peter Leeuwenburgh.

Benni himself said, “I always say a team is a reflection of its manager” and with his player, Mpho Makola recently pushing a referee and the coach’s own comments about referees leading to an investigation from the league, City may feel he is hurting the club’s image.

In other countries, his comments would have brought a touchline ban at the very least and maybe even a stadium ban. Maybe McCarthy is the next Mourinho after all!

Who City turn to next is the big question. Muhsin Ertugral is being strongly linked despite his recent spell at Maritzburg United being an unmitigated disaster. Having gone from an abrasive coach with the sort of legendary status that still keeps players on board, should they move for the divisive Turkish coach, it will be interesting to see how things pan out.

McCarthy, meanwhile, will certainly get plenty of offers in South Africa, but may now want to try his hand at finding a job in the United Kingdom using his agent Rob Moore’s wide network. With a glittering playing career and a UEFA Pro License to his name, Benni will be just fine. It’s not clear if we can say the same for Cape Town City’s short-term prospects.


Despite his flaws, McCarthy is still developing as a coach and his side was playing some of the most aesthetically-pleasing football in the PSL. With some winnable games on the horizon, he could easily have had City back in the top eight by mid-December. This decision would make more sense if there were a number of outstanding candidates to replace him, but that simply is not the case.

If City do improve right away, the favourable fixture list will have something to do with that, but whether they will be in better overall shape come next season is debatable.

Grant is a football analyst and coach who writes about the tactics of the PSL and English Premier League. He is currently completing his UEFA A coaching licence and has consulted for a Premier League club in England. He has previously worked for several clubs and a national team in coaching and analysis roles. Twitter: @grantdesmidt

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