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All Benni McCarthy does is win!

Having escaped the drugs and gangsterism that grips the Cape Flats, Benni excelled and broke records as a player and a coach, locally and abroad. He just might fulfil a childhood dream and restore Man United’s glory
Thu, Aug 04, 2022

The former striker Benni McCarthy was appointment as a first-team coach at Manchester United. PHOTO: Manchester United

It was on a cold winter’s night in Europe on 24 February 2004 when a slim and trim Benni McCarthy took one of his diagonal runs into the penalty box. And like an enraged Pitbull, he tossed himself into the air, the ball landed onto his greasy S-Curl and rocketed into the net – beating the Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard hands down.

The header was incredible and even the then United coach Sir Alex Ferguson described it as “out of this world.” It was in the Last 16 of the Uefa Champions League and McCarthy’s team FC Porto knocked the Red Devils out and went on to win the tournament, making the Cape Flats-born player the first and only South African to win the Champions League.

But sadly, McCarthy did not celebrate the win, according to FourFourTwo magazine. He was a childhood supporter of United and scoring a brace to oust them of the prestigious Champions League broke his heart.

“I support Man United and always wanted to play for them. I loved players like Mark Hughes, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs. So, I was heartbroken to score twice. My dream was to score once at Old Trafford – not to knock United out. I got hammered by my coach Jose Mourinho after the game because I wasn’t very happy. He told me that if I didn’t cheer up, I’d never play in his team again.”

Unlike that time, McCarthy is celebrating this week. His childhood wish has come to reality. He is now part of the United’s coaching staff after he was appointed as the club’s new strikers coach for the first team. This is a monumental moment for the 44-year-old who still holds the record as Bafana Bafana’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

McCarthy’s story is what dreams are really made of. He was born and grew up in Hanover Park, in the Cape Flats just outside Cape Town. Hanover Park is not your leafy suburb swathed by blossoming Jacaranda trees. McCarthy’s childhood kasi is embroiled in gangsterism, drugs and sporadic shootings from warring gangs.

As a child, he played in the local gangster leagues and he grew up with naughty boys and befriended some unsavoury characters and friends. It was a common thing for young boys to go to town to steal and engage in some petty crime – with McCarthy often getting a hiding from his strict parents, Dudley and Dora.

He told FourFourTwo about his childhood friend Gavin, who became a notorious gangster.  “Gavin, he was my mate and in my class at school. He was bullied as a kid because he was small, quiet and a good-looking boy. I was the school’s soccer star and he hung out with me a bit to be on the safe side.

“At Grade 6 he grew quickly – and he wasn’t small anymore. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd and became an infamous drug lord. I met his younger brother years later and he said that Gavin tells all his friends about you and he’d love to see you.

“I went to see him on my next trip to Cape Town. I was earning massive money as a footballer but I couldn’t afford the house that Gavin lived in. It was like something out of a movie: a mansion with rottweilers and bodyguards holding guns. The skinny little lad had become the top dog. He was a friend, but their line of work had no place in my life – I don’t like to have to look over my shoulder,” McCarthy said.

That kind of a lifestyle is a thing of the past and something he worked extremely hard to get out of. And luckily, everything he touches, seems to turn into gold. It does embarrass him a bit these days but he sold gold albums with kwaito group TKZee when they collaborated and released the smash hit Shibobo, just in time for the 1998 Fifa World Cup in France. The track is still a banger.

When McCarthy played in his first Africa Cup of Nations in 1998, he scored four goals in one match and set the tournament alight. The whole world watched as the Cape Flats boy took on muscular and much older defenders. He finished top scorer alongside African legend Hossam Hassan at the tournament.

When he left South Africa in 1997 and joined Ajax Amsterdam, he did not struggle to settle in – something SA born players often battle with when they go to Europe. He scored nine goals and was crowned champion in his first season in the Dutch premier league.

This was after he went on a scoring rampage at the African Youth Championship and the FIFA World Youth Championship in Malaysia in 1997. Bigger clubs such Celta Vigo and Porto came calling for his signature. And during his time in the English Premier League, he once finished second top scorer behind Chelsea’s top dog Didier Drogba. He had a successful spell at Blackburn Rovers before joining West Ham United.

And when he rounded off his career, he joined Orlando Pirates in the PSL and did some amazing things at the Buccaneers. When the local fans thought that he was finished, he scored some amazing and special goals, adding a few silverware into the Pirates trophy cabinet.

Because of his incredible winning spirit, which is often mistaken for arrogance, people thought he was going to struggle when he started his coaching career at Cape Town City. But he won a trophy in his first season. He later joined unfashionable AmaZulu FC and he led the club to number two on the PSL table and qualified the side for CAF Champions League, making history in the process.

Manchester United have lost the plot for a few years now. They are now a shadow of the team that had goalscoring machines such as Wayne Rooney, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and dominated Europe.

Maybe McCarthy’s arrival could perhaps soothe the pain of their long-suffering supporters. Maybe he could get the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho firing again – after all, McCarthy has not failed a single assignment.

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