Benni grows from humble roots

Talented striker Benni McCarthy has risen from a South African ghetto to a prominent place in European football. The Bafana striker is one of the finest finishers in the world, despite surprisingly being left out of his country’s recent African Nations Cup campaign.

Benni McCarthy was surprisingly left out of the African Nations Cup by South Africa. But he still remains one of the country’s all-time greats and their record goalscorer.

He boasts pace, reads the game well and is a fine finisher. He had a reputation for being awkward and outspoken early in his career in Europe, particularly during a spell at Celta Vigo, but now seems well settled at Blackburn.

His second season at Rovers has not matched an outstanding first term in 2006-07 but the club have been keen to secure his services long term and the player recently committed himself to Ewood Park until 2011.

McCarthy grew up in one of Cape Town’s toughest ghettos but was kept on the straight and narrow by his father.

“Children have role models — some of them there were gangsters,” McCarthy says. “But my group was involved in football and my father was tough with me.

“Every time I was going in the wrong direction, he came down on me and made me think twice.”

Football became his life and he went on to enjoy an outstanding early career in South Africa, first with the Seven Stars club and then with Cape Town Spurs. When those two clubs later merged to become Ajax Cape Town, a feeder club for the famous Dutch outfit, McCarthy’s route to Europe opened up.

After featuring in the World Youth Championship in 1997, and making a full international debut against Holland, he moved to the Amsterdam club. He made his mark on the international stage when he scored South Africa’s first-ever goal at a World Cup finals in France in 1998 and then enjoyed a fine domestic season with Ajax.

His 11 goals in 19 games helped Ajax win the Dutch title and earned him a move to Celta Vigo. There his career began to stagnate, however, as he failed to fit in under manager Victor Fernandez.

After two disappointing seasons, he made a fruitful loan move to Porto, a club then beginning a rise that would culminate with them becoming European champions. He netted 12 goals in 11 appearances but finances meant the Portuguese club could not buy him immediately. He had to return to Celta for another year and only finally in the summer of 2003 was he able to join Porto permanently.

He may have missed Porto’s UEFA Cup win but it was still a great time to join the club. He hit 20 goals in 29 games in 2003-04 and ended the season with a UEFA Champions League winners’ medal.

Things looked like taking a turn for the worse when coach Jose Mourinho left and, after an unsuccessful spell with Italian Luigi del Neri in charge, Porto turned to McCarthy’s old Celta coach Fernandez. McCarthy reportedly said he would rather quit than play for him again but moves to various clubs failed to materialise and he honoured his contract.

He won a Portuguese title in 2006 and then moved to Blackburn.

It proved a great move as he scored 18 goals in his first season in the EPL.

McCarthy’s marriage to Spaniard Maria in 2004 means he now has little difficulty in fulfilling the criteria for an EU work permit. Maria has also been described as a calming influence and one of the reasons why McCarthy has mellowed from his fiery younger days. Together they have a daughter.

McCarthy endured nothing but frustration at Celta Vigo, where he felt he was badly treated by Fernandez. He spent most of the time on the bench.

“They don’t have a big-time mentality or the right professionalism, it’s like they don’t want to learn,” was how McCarthy reflected on his time at the club.

McCarthy’s more sedate lifestyle these days means he now drives a Range Rover — albeit a very powerful one at the top of the range. He has a Vogue, which has a top speed of 124mph and costs up to GBP75,000.

Factfile Name: Benni McCarthy, Position: Striker Club: Blackburn DOB: 12/11/1977 South Africa Caps: 70 South Africa Goals: 30 South Africa debut: v Holland, June 1997 Moment to remember

McCarthy became a national hero when he scored South Africa’s first World Cup goal by popping the ball through Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel’s legs at France 98. The match in Toulouse ended 1-1.

Moment to forget

One of McCarthy’s least memorable moments also came on the international front. He has had an on-off relationship with Bafana, and refused to accept a call-up in May 2007 after an ugly row with the South African Football Association. The striker blamed the SAFA for demonising him during the Nations Cup finals in Egypt over a pay dispute. He refused to play again until he was given an apology, and although former coach Carlos Alberto Parreira did appear to come to a compromise with the striker, he was then left out of this year’s Nations Cup squad.

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