Once the Golden Boy of South African football, Benni McCarthy’s spectacular fall from grace and futile attempts to lift himself out of the doldrums of mediocrity, he has returned home to South Africa, determined to become the first South African to win the Uefa and African Champions Leagues. By KHADIJA PATEL.
There was a time Benni McCarthy had to be begged to come home to play for the national football team. He was the main event of domestic football, living the life to which every young South African footballer aspired. He could not put a foot wrong, winning the Uefa Champions League in Europe and scoring a record 31 goals for Bafana Bafana in the process.
McCarthy, now 33 years old, has joined Absa Premiership champions, Orlando Pirates on a two-year deal with the noble intention of changing South Africans' perceptions of him.
Earlier this year, McCarthy agreed to a £1.5 million deal with English Premiership outfit West Ham to terminate his contract. He has been the butt of jokes in South Africa for his weight troubles and missed out on a spot in South African World Cup squad for being unfit. At his best though, McCarthy was one of the most potent attackers in Europe and his return to South Africa is one of the most exciting transfers in the domestic game.
McCarthy seems to be on a charm offensive, expressing the hope to play again for the national squad and promising to stay at Pirates beyond his two-year contract. He’s also gone to pains to point out that had he been a money-grubbing mercenary, he would have chosen to rake in the bucks in the American or Saudi Arabian leagues. Many though are giggling at his assertion that he was “hungry to play again”.
Love him or hate him, the local game has certainly received a huge boost with the return of a prodigal footballing son. DM
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Photo: Then Porto's Benny McCarthy gestures after missing a shot at goal against Braga during their Portuguese Premier League soccer match in Porto, northern Portugal February 6, 2006. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal