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Celebrating Mzansi’s Great Leaders

Soccer Laduma and Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whisky celebrate eight great Bafana Bafana captains and their career achievements at the helm.

Captains often vary in style and approach - some are very vocal and imposing figures who make their presence and feelings known to their squad, while others adopt a quieter, more subtle approach, choosing instead to lead by example and let their football do much of the talking.

Regardless of their differing styles, these Mzansi greats have all had a massive impact on South African football.

This week we feature arguably South Africa’s most successful footballer in history, Benni McCarthy.

Not a captain, but a leader and a legend

Benni McCarthy may have had some unfortunate dealings with the South African Football Association, but the legend has stayed true to his nation by speaking proudly about South Africa wherever he went in Europe, despite his disappointment at the country’s mother body. To this day, Benni holds the view that Mzansi players have a superior, natural ability that many other nationalities in world football simply do not. Currently assistant coach at Sint-Truiden in Belgium, McCarthy has to this day repeatedly expressed a desire to coach his beloved Bafana Bafana.

Bafana debut at 20 and Mzansi’s greatest of all time

Five months before his Bafana Bafana debut against the Netherlands on June 4, Benni had carried Mzansi’s flag to the same country to join Ajax Cape Town’s mother club, Ajax Amsterdam. Four months later, the Hanover Park-born-and-raised Benni announced himself to international and African football in Burkina Faso at AFCON 1998. At his first major international tournament, McCarthy scored four goals in 13 minutes against Namibia. The young future legend and leader went on to lead his country to the final with a goal in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Morocco and a brace in the 2–0 semi-final victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo to finish as joint top goalscorer of the tournament along with legendary Egyptian striker Hossam Hassan – an honour no other South African player has before or since emulated.

The very same year, McCarthy made his nation proud once again at the FIFA World Cup in France, when he scored South Africa’s first ever goal at the World Cup finals.

Prominent in Holland, Portugal, Spain and England

McCarthy would go on to score 20 goals in 35 games in Holland for Ajax Amsterdam, and was soon off to join Spanish outfit Celta Vigo in 1999 for a record fee of R38.5 million for a South African footballer. After failing to settle at Celta, however, Benni was loaned to José Mourinho’s Porto FC, where he quickly rediscovered his form. A Golden Boot award in the Portuguese league (20 goals) and a major role in the team’s Champions League title win in 2004 saw Benni signing a four-year deal with English Premiership side Blackburn Rovers for a £2.5m (R52.7 million) fee. 

Once a Pirate…

McCarthy returned to his beloved Mzansi to join Orlando Pirates in the 2011/12 season. The legend proved his worth by not only helping Pirates to their second successive league championship, but deservedly captured the Telkom Player of the Tournament as well as the Absa-lutely Awesome Goal of the Season – a fitting tribute  to McCarthy’s brilliant career!


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