Adios, Benni McCarthy!
PRETORIA – Bafana Bafana, just like most African countries, will be engaged in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match this weekend; away in Cameroon, but the leading sporting news this side was the sudden announcement by Benni McCarthy that he was finally hanging up his boots.
You see on this side of the world, McCarthy, who grew up in the crime-infested and notorious Cape flats, is what Peter Ndlovu is to Zimbabwean soccer; a trend setter and the greatest footballer of the country’s modern era.
The 36-year-old striker started his professional football career with Seven Stars (now Ajax Cape Town) before moving to Ajax Amsterdam in Holland. His glittering professional career then took him to Celta Vigo in Spain, FC Porto in Portugal before rounding off his overseas stint with Blackburn Rovers and West Ham in England.
He returned to South Africa where he helped Orlando Pirates win a treble last season but then endured a frustrating 2012-13 where he rarely featured for the deposed champions following persistent injuries.
With over 80 senior national caps and (a record) 31 goals in Bafana colours, McCarthy is by far the most decorated South African soccer player who has achieved more than the likes of former Leeds United defender and captain Lucas Radebe, Phil Masinga and Steven Pienaar.
Announcing his retirement on Thursday, McCarthy, who has had a hate love relationship with the media, said he was bowing out having achieved the success “only dreams are made of.”
“It has been a 17-year professional career that surpassed even my own expectations and I have been privileged to have played under many great coaches, including the very best..Jose Mourinho,” said an emotional McCarthy.
He said since football was the only business he knew, he would now like to concentrate on obtaining his coaching badges and test waters on life giving orders from the bench. He said he would also concentrate a bit on his part time musical career which saw him release a hit with Kwaito group TKZee a few years back, ‘Benni in the Area.’
Thursday’s news brings to an end a glittering career by the colourful but a very controversial character.
Known for shooting from the hip, McCarthy courted controversy during his career in which he retired from the national team on a number of occasions and only returned on his own terms. A really fiery character, his swashbuckling behaviour on and off the pitch courted controversy wherever he went.
He once threw away a contract at the Bafana management during the 2002 African Nations Cup in Mali laughing the ‘paltry’ figures the team was to get as bonuses saying his dog’s monthly budget was far bigger than that.
In the same year in Korea/Japan, he allegedly brought a woman into his room, clearly breaking the national team’s code and bringing disharmony in the camp.
Among some of his transgressions, he was omitted from the 2010 World Cup squad after he was caught by the hotel’s cameras allegedly smuggling in women into his room.
But apart from his apparently hot temper, Mzansi will struggle to get another lethal striker than the free-scoring McCarthy.
Known for being ever-alert in the box, McCarthy hounded defenders in Africa and abroad with great consistency. He was sharp and in most cases quickest to react with both feet and was also lethal in the air.
Thursday’s announcement brings to an end an era of brilliance though littered with lots of controversies.
But all and sundry admitted that the man from the Cape flats has run his race and has left behind an impressive legacy both at home and abroad.
On a personal note, I will miss a man I always considered more than a footballer but a personal friend dating back to 1998 in Burkina Faso when as an unknown teenager, he was named the tournament’s greatest player.
You are a legend of note Benni! – Tinotenda Panashe