First published in Daily Maverick 168
When Gavin Hunt was officially announced as the man to lead Kaizer Chiefs for the next three years, a video of him while he was the coach of Black Leopards in the 2001/2002 season emerged on social media.
The video depicts a dusty training field in Venda, and Hunt clad in a black T-shirt and black shorts, gesticulating and dishing out instructions to his players. He even goes as far as demonstrating the ideal technique when taking a shot from a distance.
It is this type of passion and drive that has seen the former Hellenic right back rise to be regarded as one of the best coaches ever to be involved in South African football.
Hunt made over 300 appearances for Hellenic, before an Achilles tendon injury brought an end to his career in 1994, at just 30 years old. He transitioned into coaching soon after, coaching Seven Stars and then his former club, before the move to Thohoyandou to take charge of Leopards.
In coaching, the former Greek Gods defender displayed no evidence of having any Achilles heel, as he won Coach of the Year with Leopards in his sole season with them. He would go on to add three more of those Coach of the Year gongs, as he led Supersport United to a hat-trick of league titles between 2008 and 2010.
Before that fruitful stint with Matsatsantsa, Hunt had been at the helm at Moroka Swallows, and even though he did have the success he would later enjoy at SuperSport, he still came away with a piece of silverware as the team won the Nedbank Cup to end a five-year trophy drought.
Then came the remarkable feat of leading Bidvest Wits to their first league crown in the 2016/2017 season after more than 904 years in existence.
At the end of last season, Hunt spoke of that moment as one of the highlights of his decorated career.
“I want to be remembered most importantly for winning the league [with Wits]. And that you can never take away. It had never been done in 96 years, and we did it. That’s something that will always live with me,” said Hunt.
Not only did he make history with that league victory, but he also picked up a couple of knockout trophies, and left an indelible mark on his players along the way. As former Wits captain Thulani Hlatshwayo noted during a speech at the club’s inhouse season awards in 2017:
“Each and every coach has taught me tactical awareness, technical and everything, but there is only one coach that I need to give thanks to: coach Gavin Hunt,” Hlatshwayo said. “I always say I’m a bear off the field but I’m a lion on it, because he [Hunt] awakened the beast in me; he showed me something I never thought I had, I would just like to say thanks to him.”
Pressure to win
Now the four-time league winner, who is also the second most decorated coach in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) era, is looking to leave a similar trail of success at his new club. Amakhosi are approaching their sixth year without a trophy, having last won silverware under the tutelage of Stuart Baxter in 2015.
And Hunt is aware of the pressure that comes with being at the helm of Amakhosi, considering their title as South Africa’s most successful side, and as a result a team with one of the most demanding support bases. However, in typical Hunt style, he is ready to tackle the challenge.
“Believe you me, I’m excited, I’m not scared of it. You know, some people will say sometimes, ‘he’s scared of this type of thing’. I’m not scared of it; I’m going to face it head on in the good times and bad times. The bad times will teach you more than the good times, but hopefully we’ll have more good than bad,” said the 56-year-old in a recent club interview.
Hunt will also bring the good times off the field. In recent years visuals of him deejaying and dancing have made it into the public. But come crunch time, he knows to put that all aside, as Chiefs defender Daniel Cardoso recently highlighted.
“The coach likes to joke, but he also makes it very clear what he wants from all of us. He comes in with his own philosophy and it’s crucial that we, as players, buy into that.
“We need to hit the ground running,” said Cardoso.
Success has followed Hunt since his early days in coaching, and everyone involved with Amakhosi will be hoping he brings the same magic to Naturena so that they may reclaim their bragging rights. Starting with the first piece of silverware on offer, the MTN8. DM/DM168
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