Benni in the 18 area as he joins Manchester United as striker coach

Benni in the 18 area as he joins Manchester United as striker coach
Benni McCarthy first-team coach at Manchester United during the pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on July 31, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

SA’s Benni McCarthy is one of the football minds entrusted with ending the Red Devils’ trophy drought.

South African football lovers have thirsted for a player in the mould of Benni McCarthy or Steven Pienaar to strut their stuff in the English top flight – the Premier League.

Bafana Bafana attacker Percy Tau was the last player to make a noticeable attempt, though he never broke into Brighton’s first team before moving on to join Egyptian giants Al Ahly.

Now, South Africans will get something akin to their wish with the news that McCarthy has returned to the Premier League. The former Blackburn Rovers and West Ham attacker has been roped in by Manchester United as striker coach for its first team.

McCarthy was the last appointment made by new manager Erik Ten Hag to his backroom team before the 2022/23 season began at the weekend. The former AmaZulu coach will work closely with the boss and his other summer appointments, Steve McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag, as the Red Devils aim to arrest a hellish five-year trophy drought.

epa01586552 Benni McCarthy of Blackburn Rovers attempts an overhead kick against Manchester City during their English Barclays Premier League soccer match at the Ewood Park Stadium in Blackburn, north west England, 28 December 2008. EPA/NICK WILKINSON NO ONLINE OR INTERNET USE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO. LTD

Ten Hag replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjær as full-time first-team manager of the English giants. The Norwegian was relieved of his duties in late 2021. German Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim manager while United searched for Solskjær’s successor. They eventually settled on Dutchman Ten Hag.

Cape Town to Manchester

Coincidentally, Ten Hag’s previous place of employment before joining United was at the club where McCarthy made his entrance into European football as a 20-year-old – Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam.

The Dutch defender-turned-manager spoke to the Red Devils’ media department about the thinking behind McCarthy’s appointment at the club.

“There was still one place in our coaching staff that I wanted to fill,” Ten Hag told MUTV, “someone with a different voice, and Benni is that one.”

“He has experience as a manager, he was a coach in the professional level and was a former striker – a really successful striker as well. He will focus on positioning and attacking. I’m not only for the strikers, but also the integration from the full-backs and midfielders,” Ten Hag said.

McCarthy is not the first former Bafana Bafana player to find himself at the Manchester club. Fellow Capetonian Quinton Fortune also landed a coaching job in the red half of Manchester back in 2019, as assistant coach of the team’s under-23 side.

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND – MAY 05: Quinton Fortune looks on before the Premier League match between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United at John Smith’s Stadium on May 05, 2019 in Huddersfield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Speaking about his United role, Hanover Park native McCarthy said: “[I want to] help these young players, push them, change their mindset and really try to make the difference to United this season.

“Hopefully this season we’re going to see a completely revived United, a hungry bunch of players and a team that’s going to be able to challenge to get into the Champions League and change the dynamics of the Manchester Citys and Liverpools,” he said.

Humble beginnings

McCarthy was handed his first job as head coach by John Comitis at Cape Town City. It was a sweet reunion for the duo.

Comitis had facilitated McCarthy’s six-month loan spell to Cape Town Spurs, which the seasoned football administrator and businessman owned with brother George at the time. The next season McCarthy moved to the Netherlands.

Two decades later – after short assistant stints with Scottish and Belgian clubs (Hibernian and Sint-Truiden respectively) – the all-time Bafana Bafana top scorer joined Cape Town City, as head coach.

Comitis had revived the Cape club in 2016, by buying out then top-flight outfit Mpumalanga Black Aces. This was after he and his brother sold their shares at former Premiership side Ajax Cape Town (now Cape Town Spurs) in 2013.  

For the 2017/2018 campaign, the season-old Cape club announced McCarthy as head coach. In his first campaign he led them to the MTN8 final and a fifth-place league finish. The next season he went one better in both instances, finishing fourth in the league and winning the MTN8 to capture his first piece of silverware as a coach.

Benni McCarthy, head coach of AmaZulu during the DStv Premiership match between Cape Town City FC and AmaZulu FC at Cape Town Stadium on April 29, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix/Gallo Images)

“Every time a South African achieves global accolades, it’s a feather in the cap of South African football. We can never have enough of this kind of positive publicity for the country’s football. Our football is so underestimated,” Comitis told Daily Maverick about McCarthy’s move to Manchester.

“Situations like when Benni makes this kind of move, and is able to be included on such a big stage. It adds a lot of value to South African credibility,” added the Cape Town City chairperson.

“In saying that, I’ve got to congratulate Benni as an individual, Because this is his achievement.

“He’s done this very much on the basis of his persona, his image and his capacity,” continued Comitis.

“He has got a Uefa Pro [coaching] licence. So, he’s got a well-rounded approach to coaching – on all aspects [of the game].

“Now he will be focusing on his best speciality, the striking department. I am certain he will make a difference for United.”

A door opened

McCarthy’s move sees him join the likes of former Everton midfielder Pienaar and retired South African left back Bradley Carnell as former Bafana players currently coaching internationally.

The latter is in the US as head coach of Major League Soccer side St Louis City FC. Former playmaker Pienaar is earning his coaching stripes in the development structures of Ajax Amsterdam.

Comitis, who also sits on the Premier Soccer League’s executive committee, said that the rise of the former Bafana Bafana sharpshooter to these heights bodes well for his peers.

“Every time a South African succeeds outside the borders of South Africa, it opens the door for the rest. We have extremely high-level coaches in this country. Very capable coaches,” Comitis said.

“If this is the beginning of more coaches having that opportunity, the experience they bring back to South Africa one day when they return (if they return) can only be good for us. It’s been a massive boost for South African football.”

It’s a massive boost for McCarthy’s CV as well. The coach had once flirted with the Red Devils while he was donning the colours of Blackburn Rovers as a player. Now, his dream of being at the club is a reality. DM


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