The name Benedict Saul McCarthy, better known as ‘Benni’, is a legend in the footballing world and arguably South Africa’s greatest player of the pre-isolation era at least.
Since 1992 when Bafana Bafana were allowed back into FIFA international football following the death of apartheid, Benni has become the most decorated of South African exports with his greatest honour coming in the form of a UEFA Champions League gold medal with FC Porto in 2004.
It was under Jose Mourinho at Porto that Benni destroyed his boyhood favourites, Manchester United, scoring twice at Old Trafford to help knock the Red Devils out of the Champions League in the Second Round.
“I remember clearly that Mourinho drew everyone (at Porto) around him and told them ‘We are going to have to fight like dogs to even get into the UEFA Cup next season but we will get there if you do what I ask’.
“By the end of that season, we missed qualifying for the Champions League on the last day of the season and it became a disappointment only to be in the UEFA Cup!
He sat us all down again and promised, that if everyone did as he asked again, Porto would win the championship and the UEFA Cup – and they did. None of us were surprised – we had learned that if you trust Jose Mourinho and do what he asks then what he promises comes true,” McCarthy said.
The famous victory for FC Porto and McCarthy’s role in scoring so many crucial goals helped springboard his next career more – a transfer to the English Premier League.
At Blackburn Rovers, armed with his Champions League gold medal, McCarthy continued doing what he knows best – scoring goals!
With 34 strikes in over 70 appearances for Porto, McCarthy went on to appear over 100 times for Rovers and notched up 37 goals in England before a short stint at West Ham United, which he’d rather forget about ended badly.
McCarthy returned to South Africa in 2011 and helped Orlando Pirates win the Absa Premiership title, the Telkom Knockout and MTN8 Cup in what was a trophy-laden spell for the Buccaneers, thanks to many ‘McCarthy Magic’ moments.
McCarthy had not played professional football in South Africa since 1997 where he was a rising star hopeful at Cape Town side Seven Stars. It was from here that he joined Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam where he became an instant success, scoring goals with ease. Soon Spanish side Celta Vigo came calling, and despite several difficulties at the club, McCarthy still managed to score a few goals between 1999 and 2003. It was from Celta that FC Porto came calling and it was a match made in heaven.
McCarthy will remember the goals, the friendships and the UEFA Champions League success as cornerstone marks in his illustrious career, even if playing and scoring for Blackburn was also a top career highlight.
Today Benni McCarthy is studying and working to become a top coach. He told The Star newspaper about his coaching ambitions.
“Being in Europe provided me with an opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches in the world and that’s what I believe will set me apart from the rest (former players who turned coaches). Jose Mourinho is one of those I’ve been learning from.
“I would love to bring his man-management skills to my style of management. Mourinho understands his players on a personal level, and that’s why he is able to get positive results out of them. I hope to emulate him one day.”
- Benedict Saul McCarthy
- Born: 11 December 1977 in Cape Town
- Clubs: Seven Stars (South Africa), Ajax Amsterdam (Holland), Celta Vigo (Spain), FC Porto (Portugal), Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United (both England), Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
- International: 80 caps for South Africa, 32 goals
- Honours: Dutch League winner, Dutch KNVB Cup winner, Portuguese League winner, Portuguese Cup winner, Portuguese Super Cup winner, UEFA Champions League winner, UEFA Intertoto Cup winner, South African League winner, Telkom Knockout winner, MTN8 Cup winner