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Return of the Mac

by Molemo Ramphalile / 26.08.2011

Much like the rest of Mzansi, the majority of Pirates fans were not really disappointed when Benni McCarthy was left out of the Bafana squad for the 2010 World Cup. He had been pretty reluctant in previous years to represent the national team, he got fat, he had attitude, so in many people’s eyes it was a deserved exclusion. But a year later, Pirates fans reacted with elation at the news that Benni had signed for the Happy People. I mean, he is still Benni McCarthy! Granted he hasn’t played much football in the past two years. He put on some weight and was paid close to R20m to leave West Ham United. But this is a sports star who has played in some of the best football leagues in the world, including three seasons at FC Porto where he won the UEFA Champions League playing under the leadership of the “Special One”. José Mourinho himself. This is also the same man who not only has his name chanted in the chorus of one the biggest kwaito tunes ever, but arguably, also has the hottest verse on that track. If you can even compete with Magesh on a TKZee song, or any song for that matter, then my friend, you are a legend!

The point is that the beef that many Mzansi fans had with Benni is that once he had made it big in Europe he “forgot about us” and consistently opted for club over country. The gripe was always with his commitment to the national team not with his value as a footballer. However, at the age of 33, with all the international experience he’s amassed, he still has a lot of quality to offer. All he really had to do upon his return to the South African soccer scene, besides getting into better shape, was to convince whichever club he would potentially join that he still had a desire to play and thus reclaim his respect amongst local soccer fans. So you can imagine how excited the Happy People were when he spoke about wanting to be part of a football institution with two stars above its badge, and Benni has made no bones about his desire to be the only player to win both the European and African Champions League. If he’s actually prepared to tough it out in a continental competition that is not usually kind to Mzansi teams, then that shows an improvement in the work ethic of the Benni of four or five years ago.

You better believe he can still have major an impact. Despite his lack of match fitness and slightly slower movement around the field, in the few games he has played for Pirates he has had some impressive touches, has held the ball up well and scored off his first touch on debut. Forget the sending off for collecting two yellows at Maritzburg United this week, as he said himself, he did nothing wrong. And so what if he doesn’t score the 26 goals in the league required to win a car as a prize? Firstly, he probably owns a few cars that are more expensive than what the PSL are offering. Secondly, his influence exceeds his own actual contribution in terms of goals or assists. Just having Benni in the dressing room or on the training ground is an asset, because of the inspirational aspect he could provide to other players. Just look at how influential Shoes Moshoeu was for Chiefs on his return, helping them win the PSL title for the first time. Players such as Shoes, Shaun Bartlett, Maimane Phiri, Glen Salmon, Sibusiso Zuma, Macbeth Sibaya and Siyabonga Nomvethe have not only put in solid performances for their teams upon their return to the PSL, but their stature and professionalism is often noted by their coaches and teammates as exemplary. The truth is that these big-name older players returning from lengthy spells at overseas clubs still have something to offer local football. Not only in terms of their refined football abilities, but also their mere presence as success stories, as players who have actually been there and done that, and that surely has some positive effect on their team mates and the clubs. If you told Bongani Ndulula a year ago that in a year’s time he’d be playing regularly at Pirates, he’d probably be humbled by your prediction. But if you told him he’d be in the 18 area alongside Benni McCarthy at treble winning Orlando Pirates he’d write you off as being no Prophet Mboro. Being in the same team with Benni could play a major role in the development of one of local soccer’s brightest talents and that’s the one of the main reasons why it’s so important that successful international players end their careers at local clubs. So, in the slightly modified immortal words of the legendary big Mac: One for Bhakaniya, Halakasha!

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