It is argued that Benedict Saul McCarthy, better known as Benni McCarthy, was solely responsible for ensuring that Portugal’s, Porto, won the 2004 UEFA Champions League. For a kid coming from the violent streets of Hanover Park, a kid who had to watch his mother being beaten by his father, this would have seemed like the impossible dream. Dreams do however, come true.
Like most boys growing up in Hanover Park, Benni had seen his fair share of violence and had even lost some friends along the way. He describes one such incident: “We were playing football on a little pitch between the houses. During a break, I went back inside. Suddenly, we heard a couple of gun shots but we didn’t take any notice because you’d hear that all the time. It was no big deal. Then our little cousin came running in and said our friend, Reginald, had just been shot. We went out, and he was just lying there on the ground. Reginald would have been a footballer and a half. He had everything. He was quick, very skillful and mentally he was very strong. He would have been the complete player, but he never even got to see 15.”
He also remembers an incident when he was 11. His team was playing against Quinton’s Fortune’s team and gangsters threatened to kill Quinton if he played well against Benni’s team. Benni however credits Quinton’s success for inspiring him to follow his football dreams.
The attraction of gangsterism was all around, but luckily for Benny, he had strict parents. Despite the domestic violence, Benni’s parents, Dudley and Dora, kept their kids away from gangsterism and motivated them to achieve their dreams. Benni’s older brother, Jerome, was also a professional footballer who played for Kaizer Chiefs and Manning Rangers among others, while his younger brother Mark played football at Franklin Pierce University in the United States. Describing his family and upbringing, he says, “I kept out of trouble and loved sport. I was always chicken when it came to getting hidings from my father. Every time I was going in the wrong direction, he came down on me and made me think twice.”
As for Football, the young Benni started playing at a local side called Young Pirates which was managed by his uncles. He then joined the youth structures of a local amateur club, the Crusaders. By the age of 15, McCarthy was the most outstanding player in the South African second division for a club called Seven Stars. He scored 39 goals in 49 games, enough to attract the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Soon he played at the 1997 African Youth Championship and was approached by, and signed for the Dutch club, Ajax, despite interest from AC Milan, Inter and PSG. Because of him, the Ajax later bought a 51% share in Seven Stars and changed its name to Ajax Cape. He then moved to Ajax Amsterdam, where he played 36 games scored 20 goals, emerging as one of the top scorers in the Eeredivisie. During this time, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Rangers all tried to sign him but he eventually moved to Celtic, which he regrets.
He soon went on to play for FC Porto where he helped the club achieve its best league finish in several seasons. In addition, during this time, he won the Golden Boot and he played an crucial role in helping Porto win the EUFA Champions League. He is credited with single handedly defeated European giants, Manchester United, where he scored two spectacular goals in the 2-1 home victory, inevitably leading the victory in the EUFA finals.
He decided to then Blackburn Rovers, where he finished second top scorer in the Premier League in 2006–07 with 18 league goals. After a disappointing season at West Ham, he decided to come back home. He joined Orlando Pirates where he scored during his debut game.
On the 19th May, 2012, McCarthy scored two goals in the final half-hour to help the Pirates defeat the Golden Arrows 4–2 to retain their Premier League title. McCarthy finished his successful season with 10 league goals, ending the campaign as the fourth leading goal-scorer in the Premiership, helping the club secure their second successive treble. Having already won a league championship with Ajax Amsterdam in Holland as well as with FC Porto in Portugal, Benni would make football history by winning the league championship with Orlando Pirates in South Africa. This meant that McCarthy is the first South African footballer who has won 3 league titles with 3 different football teams on 2 different continents.
All in all, Benny holds the record of international goals for a South African and he is Bafana Bafana’s all-time top-scorer with 31 goals.
Benni is also a top selling recording artists. In 1998, Benni McCarthy collaborated with South African kwaito music group TKZee in “Shibobo”. The song released in the run-up to the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and features Benni McCarthy rapping part of the lyrics. He also appears in the football-themed music video for the song. Sales of the single topped the 100,000 mark in just over a month in South Africa, at the time making “Shibobo” the fastest and biggest selling CD single by a South African singing artist or group.
Benni retired from football on the 6th of June 2013, aged 35, and in 2014, he started doing courses in the UK to obtain a Uefa B-Licence. He then pursued an A-Licence which he received through the Irish Football Association. He also served as an assistant coach for the Belgian side, St Truiden, and he was considered to be in the running for the Orlando Pirates coaching position.
As a child, having witnessed his father beat his mother, he promised himself that he would work his “socks off and make a success” of his life so that he can give her “the life that she deserved”. It should then come as no surprise that he is a passionate advocate for women and children’s rights. He supported and endorsed the child rights group, Women and Men Against Child Abuse, and he is an ambassador for the Pink Suits campaign, an organization that brings awareness to breast cancer and tries to raise money to fight the disease. In interview, he said that “kids and women cannot defend themselves against us. So, to use kids and women as a punching bag is vile. So, I promised myself that I would never become that guy who uses woman and kids as a punching bag, but try and make a difference.”
The father of 4 daughters, Minna, Miya, Allegra and Lima Rose, Benni is described as a hard worker, a great example to the youth and the best striker that South Africa has ever produced.
Being the only South African to have won the Eufa Championships League, it is argued that Benni McCarthy is the greatest South African footballer. As a kid growing up in Hanover Park, this might have seemed like the impossible dream. Dreams do however come true and for Benni, nothing is impossible.