Gavin Hunt is undoubtedly one of the most successful coaches in the history of South African football, but something is still missing on his coaching CV.
Having won four league titles – three with SuperSport United between 2008 and 2010 – and recently with Bidvest Wits, Hunt is in the eyes of many African football fans still far behind.
He has taken charge of over 750 official matches in the topflight, but the argument is that he cannot brag about anything, including the domestic titles he’s won until he proves himself in unfamiliar territory – the continental football.
Hunt tried several times before without success, but this season’s Caf Champions League offers him the opportunity to rectify the mistakes of the past.
In recent years, only three PSL clubs – Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United really flew the South African flag high on the continent, but Wits, despite improving their profile as one of the best teams in the country over the past two seasons, have failed dismally in Caf competitions.
Experienced as he is with players who are capable of competing against the best on the African continent, Hunt, whose coaching career spans more than 23 years, has offered very little if not nothing in continental football.
It is for this reason some think he’s not yet at the level required to coach Bafana Bafana, and if he’s to be considered for the national team in future, Hunt will have to silence his critics by going all the way in this year’s campaign.
The fact that Wits have not been doing well in the league this season should also be motivation enough for the 53-year-old mentor to go all out as there are no guarantees that he’d finish anywhere near the top two or three come May.
Also, there are no guarantees that he’d ever win the league title with Wits again, who had not won the PSL title in their history until last season.
Having competed in the Caf Confederation Cup with the same team since 2014, Hunt should be well aware of the expectations from the South African public, especially after SuperSport United’s heroics last year.
No one really gave Eric Tinkler and his charges a chance when the tournament started, but as inexperienced some may think he is, the 47-year-old mentor upset the odds and set the bar really high by reaching the finals.
It was Tinkler’s second Caf Confederation Cup final, and many already rank him among the best in the country, and above the likes of Hunt, even though he's yet to lay his hands on the trophy itself.
Of course, Caf competitions aren’t the only yardstick to measure success, but testing yourself against the best gives coaches an indication of how far they’ve gone and it’s something that others would only dream about from distance.
Hunt previously dismissed suggestions that he doesn’t take Caf competitions, and he was confident of going all the way in last season’s Caf Champions Cup until Al Ahly knocked his team out in the second round. Wits also narrowly missed out on a place in the group stages of the Caf Confed Cup after going down to Smouha in the play-offs.
So, the former Moroka Swallows should be commended for the stellar performance his team put against the Egyptian giants home and away, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can go one better this time around, especially after listing contintal compeititions high up on his priority list.
“Last year we were unlucky,” Hunt said in January this year. “We gave it a full go last year and we will give it a full go this year. We have two rounds to get into a group. So, we’ll see. The Champions League helped us win the league last year because everyone had to play,” he added.
Hunt surely wants his name to be engraved in the history books by becoming only the second South African coach to win a continental crown after Pitso Mosimane.
He has already emulated Mosimane by winning all four domestic trophies on offer over the years – the league title, Nedbank Cup, MTN8 and the Telkom Knockout Cup.
The majority of his players are experienced enough to go all the way. Lehlohonolo Majoro, Moeneeb Josephs, Edwin Gyimah, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Daine Klate, Sifiso Myeni and Sifiso Hlanti among others, have all been exposed to continental football in one way or the other, and Hunt doesn’t have an excuse not to do well this year.