Hunt on for title-winning sides

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While such rumination would be appropriate and correct, often it is forgotten that one of South Africa’s most successful coaches is also a Capetonian – Gavin Hunt.

Hunt’s achievements speak for itself – winning the Premier Soccer League title three years in a row with SuperSport United (2008, 2009 and 2010), the Nedbank Cup with SuperSport in 2012, the Absa Cup with Moroka Swallows in 2004, and even the regional First Division championship with Seven Stars in 1998. In addition, he was named as Coach of the Year on four occasions (2002, 2008, 2009 and 2010).

Now, at Wits, Hunt is again hard at work, doing what he does best. The Joburg club, in the past, was always seen as a development club. But now, backed by big money from its sponsor, it has changed its ambitions. Now, the Students want to win titles and trophies. And, as soon as they made that decision, as soon as they had shifted focus, they hired Hunt to steer them to success.

It hasn’t come as yet. But he’s got them close… On Friday night, they lost out 2-1 to Ajax Cape Town at Athlone Stadium in the quarter-finals of the Nedbank Cup. Hunt’s men were very unfortunate, though, as they hit the woodwork on three occasions.

But, with his knowledge and experience of winning trophies in South Africa, it’s probably a no-brainer that Wits will be the team to watch next season.

Now 50 years old, Hunt has trod a long path in South African football. It all started in the most unlikeliest of surroundings in Simon’s Town, the naval village where Hunt was born. A pugnacious right-back, he started his career at Defence in Simon’s Town before joining Rygersdal in Rondebosch. It was there that, as a promising 16-year-old, he was spotted and signed by Hellenic coach Johnny “Budgie” Byrne.

The late Byrne, an England international, was a charismatic figure in Cape football. He arrived here in 1969, and would go on to nurture and coach many a successful Hellenic squad.

Injury, though, was to steer Hunt the player into becoming Hunt the coach.

“In 1994, while still playing for Hellenic, in fact we had just played a Cup final, I tore my Achilles,” said Hunt. “That was it for my playing career, so it was on to coaching… I had already been coaching when I was still playing. I coached the WP Schoolboys, and I remember Craig Rosslee was in that team (Rosslee played for Hellenic and Cape Town Spurs, and is the current head coach of Moroka Swallows). I then spent three months coaching at Vasco da Gama before taking up the position at Seven Stars.”

It was at Seven Stars, then a Gugulethu-based team in the First Division, that Hunt was to first catch the eye as a coach. It was there that he was responsible for giving a 16-year-old Benni McCarthy his first introduction to top-flight, senior football. And we all know what Benni went on to achieve…

Hunt then spent three years coaching his former club Hellenic and when, in 2001, he found himself unwanted and unemployed in the Cape, he took the plunge and headed for Venda in Limpopo to coach Black Leopards.

It was to be an inspired decision. Hunt transformed Leopards, an unknown club at the time, into a side to be respected, steering them to a position in the top eight of the PSL. His work at Lidoda Duvha quickly captured attention and the next year he was hired by Swallows. There, he had a five-year stint before the successful move to SuperSport in Pretoria.

And Hunt’s philosophy of coaching is simple.

“As far as I am concerned, as a coach, I believe that you have to make the best of what you have,” he said. “Everybody wants to play like Real Madrid and Barcelona, but you can’t do that… because you don’t have the players to play like that. So you have to look at your squad, assess their strengths, and then create something successful with what you have. If you want a word to describe me as a coach it would be ‘consistent’.

“The game has changed so much now. Yes, players are fitter, quicker and stronger, but they are not better than the players back when I was playing. Most importantly, the quality of the final ball is absent. Players today don’t pass, cross or shoot as well as back then. And, heading, that’s almost non-existent today.

“We just don’t have the quality. The basic skills of the players aren’t what they should be. Yes, as a PSL coach you do such drills every day at training, but these are aspects that should be seen to at youth development level… and that’s another topic of discussion altogether.”

Hunt, despite his success at domestic level, has never been given an opportunity with the national team, Bafana Bafana. It’s not something that bothers him too much – he just gets on with the job he is employed to do.

But he does have a few thoughts on the country’s inability to progress at national level.

“I definitely think that we are not picking the right type of players for the national team,” said Hunt. “Under Shakes (Mashaba), I think there has been a bit of a change for the better. At least he has given another core of players an opportunity, and they have some of the attributes like the hunger and mental strength needed to succeed at a higher level.

“But more needs to be done, and more thought needs to be given in terms of the type of player used by Bafana. For example, when Clive Barker was in charge, he had a great mix of players. He had men like Eric Tinkler, because at that level you don’t just need skill and flair, you need desire, courage, mentality and the right attitude. As far as I’m concerned, at national level it’s not always about ability, you need players with heart.” – Weekend Argus

Original source: Hunt on for title-winning sides

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