17 May 2007
It took a number of attempts before South African striker Benni McCarthy got his dream move to the English Premier League, but when Blackburn Rovers finally managed to pry him away from Porto, he repaid the club handsomely in kind.
McCarthy finished the 2006/07 season as the second highest scorer in the league by netting 17 times in a championship that is said to be extremely difficult to adjust to.
Thanks in no small part to McCarthy, Blackburn finished tenth in the Premiership to secure a place in next season’s Intertoto Cup. Just four more points would have put Rovers in the running for a position in the Uefa Cup.
The Bafana Bafana star’s contribution to the club’s success was recognised when he picked up two awards at Blackburn Rovers’ awards ceremony. He was named the Players’ Player of the Year – a huge accolade given that it reflects his teammates’ opinion of him – and won the Goal of the Season award.
The goal came in the FA Cup match against Arsenal – the only goal of the game – that secured Rovers a place in the quarterfinals of the competition. Ultimately they bowed out in the semi-finals against Chelsea after extra time.
Having signed the South African striker for £2.5-million, it is now clear that Blackburn scored a massive bargain.
McCarthy and Tottenham’s Dimitar Berbatov made huge impacts in their first seasons in the Premier League as both topped the 20-goal mark in all competitions – 24 in total for McCarthy – although Berbatov seemed to garner most of the headlines.
The South African, in fact, netted six more times in the Premiership than the Bulgarian. In a league that produced three of the four Uefa Champions League finalists – a good argument that it is the best league in the world – that is a mighty impressive performance.
His tally of 17 league goals was second only to Didier Drogba’s 19 and tied with Player of the Season Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rovers’ manager Mark Hughes is in no doubt that McCarthy has had a better season than Berbatov. He has even gone so far as to proclaim his man as the best striker Blackburn has had since former England captain Alan Shearer.
And looking at the bargain he got when signing the Bafana Bafana ace, Hughes pointed out that Berbatov is valued at about £30-million. “So you do the maths on how much Benni is worth,” he told the Daily Mail, adding that the striker is not for sale.
Hughes fully expects to have McCarthy back at Ewood Park next season and has predicted even bigger and better things for the forward, thanks to the experience of having a season in the Premiership under his belt.
Recent reports have, however, surfaced suggesting that McCarthy would be open to moving to a big-money club playing Champions League football, like Chelsea, which is managed by his former manager at Porto, Jose Mourinho.
Blackburn boss Hughes, though, has been quick to play down that talk, saying the story came from the Portuguese press, where an interview with McCarthy was reported out of context. He says he is not worried and confident McCarthy will be back in Rovers’ colours next season.
There is also a story doing the rounds that both Hughes and McCarthy might be bound for Chelsea.
With Mourinho’s multi-millionaires having landed only the League Cup and set to do battle with Manchester United for the FA Cup, this season has been deemed a relative failure for the Blues.
Rumour has it that Chelsea is interested in Hughes as a successor to Mourinho and McCarthy as a striking partner for Drogba after the poor season turned in by their £30-million signing, Andriy Shevchenko.
In fact, recent media reports suggest the Blues offered £8-million for the striker, a figure Hughes believes is far below his market value.
McCarthy and Hughes
When McCarthy joined Rovers he was asked in an interview with Fifa.com whether he knew much about his new manager.
“Know about him?” McCarthy replied. “He used to be my hero! He was a player who I always wanted to be like. I have so much respect for him – and I love learning from him.
“It’s a little bit strange actually, because I have gone from being a big fan to standing next to him on the training pitch. I can’t believe it. It’s great to be able to rub shoulders with your heroes, because I was actually a Manchester United supporter as a boy.”
Now Hughes, who was known for his brawny performances for the Red Devils, is being lauded for his brain after his signing of McCarthy.
World Cup 2010
The big question for many South African soccer fans, especially with the Rainbow Nation hosting the World Cup in 2010, is whether or not McCarthy will end his self-imposed international exile.
In his interview with Fifa.com, McCarthy gave his take on the situation: “People know that I have had problems in the past, due to the club versus country situation. You always want to play for your country – it’s a massive honour, but your club means a great deal to you.
“Quite often, South Africa’s games have clashed with European club fixtures, which has put me in a very difficult position,” McCarthy went on. “For example, the African Nations Cup takes place in January and February – at a crucial point in time for the leagues.
“I missed the games for South Africa because I wanted to establish myself at Blackburn.
“In the future, if they still think I’m the best striker, then I’d be honoured to go back.
“It would also be great to play in the World Cup in my country.”
Keeping an eye on SA
McCarthy says the prospect of playing the World Cup on home soil is an exciting one. He reckons he is constantly monitoring what South Africa is doing in preparation for the event, both on and off the field.
South Africa, he says, wants to make a great impression, especially as it will be the first African country to host the event.
“I am sure it will offer them something different to what they’ve seen at the other World Cups,” McCarthy commented. “It’ll be a tremendous party!”