Cape Town City's Olde Riekerink confident of success, despite Benni's looming shadow
Cape Town City head coach Jan Olde Riekerink has taken significant steps towards emerging from the shadows of predecessor Benni McCarthy, who was a fan favourite after a long career for South Africa and various Premier League sides.
Most recently, goals from Kermit Erasmus and Craig Martin sealed a scrappy but vital victory for City over Bidvest Wits at Cape Town Stadium, helping lift the mood at the club after a dismal recent run under the former Ajax Amsterdam mentor.
A visibly relieved City dugout huddled together as the final whistle blew on this windy night. It was a far cry from a recent Wednesday afternoon's training session at Hartleyvale stadium.
That day, Olde Riekerink paced up and down the field, immersed in the six-a-side game taking place amongst members of his squad. The sun shone, but as a club, Cape Town City had seen brighter days since their formation in 2016.
Chairman John Comitis founded the club in its current form when he bought and relocated Mpumalanga Black Aces. Three top-five Premier Division finishes in as many seasons followed - one under Eric Tinkler and two under fellow Bafana Bafana legend McCarthy.
McCarthy was sacked following a disappointing start to the 2019-20 campaign, with Olde Riekerink the man to replace him in November last year.
The Dutchman came with a glowing CV, having coached Galatasaray and SC Heerenveen, as well as heading the AFC Ajax academy and serving as Co Adriaanse's assistant at FC Porto.
Nevertheless, that Wednesday, with City sitting one point above bottom, their head coach did not beat around the bush with regards to his limitations.
"I don't play, so my experience is only from the side," Olde Riekerink said, responding to ESPN querying the significance of the decades he had spent in the dugout as he sought to steer City's ship out of murky waters.
"It's good that you're watching the training, because you can see the spirit. I can always say that we train well, we have enough spirit, we work hard and have quality.
"What's most important is that I believe in my group in this phase. I believe that we will come out and finally have the results [we want]."
Olde Riekerink's charges delivered against Wits, picking up his second win since moving to the dugout after securing his work permit. He has drawn three games and lost three otherwise, an unsettling record for fans, even now.
As impressive as his squad may have been in training, Olde Riekerink has taken enough knocks in football to know that it is a results business. Generally, only victories can buy a coach time and support from a club's supporters and superiors.
Sometimes, as he has learned the hard way, even these are not enough. The Dutchman was sacked by Galatasaray on Valentine's Day, 2017, despite winning the Turkish Cup and Turkish Super Cup.
This was not Olde Riekerink's only bittersweet farewell as a coach. According to multiple reports, his 2011 exit from his role in charge of the Ajax academy came shortly after Johan Cruyff called for his sacking.
Olde Riekerink, seemingly once displaced by a Dutch football icon, now finds himself again trying to escape the shadow of a national hero.
McCarthy received an outpouring of affection on social media from his former players as news broke of his sacking -- even after he repeatedly criticised their 2019-20 performances publicly.
Taariq Fielies was an important cog in McCarthy's machine at centre-back, but was lacklustre in January's 3-0 defeat to Kaizer Chiefs.
"Coaches come and go and I think Benni is now in the past, so we just need to continue with this coach's philosophy and give him what he wants," said Fielies, after initially saying 'no comment', when asked about the adjustment to life post-Benni.
Fielies looked far more assured in the victory over Wits alongside Giannis Potouridis, who earned the Man of the Match award.
Getting the best out of the Greek defender is one way in which Olde Riekerink could create a legacy at his new club. McCarthy recently told radio show Marawa Sport Worldwide of his displeasure over Potouridis being signed ahead of Robyn Johannes, his former captain.
Despite what Fielies opined, Cape Town City supporters cannot truly leave McCarthy "in the past" just yet. At least, not until the Mother City's most successful team over the past three and a half years regains its Midas touch.
Whether the win against Wits started a revival remains to be seen, but CTFC take on Black Leopards, who are one of four sides at the bottom of the table on 17 points, on Friday. If they don't take advantage of that, Benni's fans will really have something to tweet about.