Cape Town - It seems unthinkable now that there were some fans, pundits and outside onlookers criticising the decision to hire Gavin Hunt as Wits head coach.
Those dissenting voices have been in serious decline over the past few months.
Hunt deserves tremendous credit. It’s his own innate mix of abilities which have ensured Wits constant, visible progression, moving from an inconsistent unit to the current iteration: a mentally strong, defensive and attack-minded team.
A constant message from Hunt from day one has been that the team will continue to improve, evolve and become more confident in the work they do.
Changes were still needed. Changes were made, too, swiftly and without recourse to reputation or personnel reaction. Those left out or who switched positions needed to get on board. This is the way Wits are playing - either be a part of it or don’t.
Hunt has always preached the need to play at a high tempo, to press the opposition and to make life as difficult as possible for them.
He can take credit in particular for one part of the team: the improvement of those who were there before him. He inherited a team that had potential that showed flashes of impressive form, but one that lacked real structure to make the most of its talents.
Daine Klate has hit greater heights than ever before. Natural improvement, or the effects of a man-manager squeezing the best out of an immense talent?
Likely a little of both- but it’s also the boss who structures the team to suit Klate’s style and lets him play within the framework with enough freedom to showcase that unnerving quality, game after game.
Systems and set-ups have changed with a regularity which could be called panicky and haphazard, were it not done with a critical, calculated and ever-improving eye for detail yielding positive results week after week.
A back three, two up top, 1-2 and 2-1 in midfield and even a diamond midfield. The shape changes, the roles of players within the framework of the team alter subtly, but everything is done with two aims in mind: stop the opposition playing in dangerous areas, and make the most of the talent on the pitch.
Rapid transitions are fundamental to the good work Wits do in the final third, and all that stems from Hunt’s absolute tenets: press hard, pass with intelligence, use pace and space.
Wits don’t have one system, one formation, one blueprint. In-game management is something the manager has alluded to, and it’s something he himself is getting better at. Substitutions and squad depth do not always allow it to happen to the extent he wants.
There are those coaches famed for tactical discipline or for an unyielding personality, for bringing fantastic flowing football to the pitch or for getting every last ounce of effort and ability out of the players at their disposal.
Hunt has caressed and cajoled, protected and lambasted, altered, switched, twisted and stuck until he found a combination of players which suited his vision and which yielded points.
Can Hunt and his scouting team recruit the players to not only add depth but increased quality to cope on multiple fronts?
Even if Wits had not won the PSL title , but the fact that they were even as big a part of the conversation as they were means Hunt deserves endless credit for a job extremely well done.