What more is there to say about Benni McCarthy?
He’s been put down, trampled on, ridiculed, and dismissed as an over-weight, over-rated charlatan more often than any footballer should have to endure.
Yet, each time, the 34-year-old Cape Town-born striker has come back to splatter copious bowls of beaten egg on the faces of his critics.
On Saturday afternoon, on the final day of the Premier Soccer League season, with Orlando Pirates needing a victory to secure the league title for the second successive campaign, who else but the inimitable, irrepressible McCarthy was the man to rise to the occasion to clinch the vital three points for the popular Joburg club.
With Pirates and Golden Arrows locked at 2-2, McCarthy glanced in a header to hand the Buccaneers the lead, and then, to crown it all, he whipped a wicked, devilish free-kick into the top corner during injury time to seal the title, the treble and the R10 million in prize money.
For Pirates, that’s now six trophies in a row in the space of two seasons. Last season’s treble included the MTN8, the Nedbank Cup and the league championship. This season it’s the PSL title, the MTN8 and the Telkom Knockout Cup. Every trophy has been lifted by the team’s captain Lucky Lekgwathi, and that must surely be some kind of record. Imagine the tales of glory and success that Lekgwathi will be able to relate to his grand-children in time to come.
For Pirates winger Daine Klate, it’s also a remarkable milestone. It was his fifth league title, but amazingly it’s five in a row. Unlike others in the PSL who also have won five league winners’ medals – Andre Arendse for example – Klate is the first to do so consecutively. Before Pirates’ two titles, the Port- Elizabeth-born footballer had won three successive championships with SuperSport United.
For McCarthy, the man of the moment, it’s another league title in another country.
Back in 1997, in his first season with Ajax Amsterdam, he won the Dutch Eredivisie title. He was also a league champion in Portugal with FC Porto in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006, a team with whom he was to go on and win the coveted European Champions League.
Now, in his first season back in the South African PSL, he is a league winner again.
You just cannot keep this man down. He is certainly a footballer for the big stage. Down the years, always, even when just a teenager making his way here in the Mother City, he has impressed and blossomed when called on to perform when a great deal was at stake.
Over the weekend it was no different. When Pirates needed someone to stand up and be counted, when they needed someone to make a difference, when they needed something special from the man they had paid good money to sign, he never hid in the shadows, he emerged as the winner that he has always been.
Some say his ego and arrogance are as big as his talent, but the good ones invariably have this character trait. Need mention be made of Cristiano Ronaldo or Didier Drogba as examples.
So, in the aftermath of another tense, exciting close to a PSL season, we are left to reflect on football’s peculiar twist of irony, and how it doesn’t matter which country you are in, the emotions and stories are the same.
In England last week, we were treated to a wonderful finish to the season. Two Manchester clubs gunning for the title, which was won in the most unbelievable manner by the goal of a striker – Sergio Aguero – on which Manchester City had splashed the cash on. Aguero has repaid the outlay with that last-gasp finish.
In the PSL on Saturday, it was similar in many ways. Two Soweto clubs in a tight race for the championship, which was sealed in the most spectacular fashion by two goals from a striker that Pirates had opened up their cheque book to bring to the club. McCarthy had repaid the outlay.
McCarthy promised there was even more to come next season.
“As a team, we worked hard and the title is for the fans out there who always believed in us,” he said in an interview after receiving his man-of-the-match award.
“This is also for those who doubted me, who never gave me any credit. I have always believed in myself and in my ability. There is nothing better than going out to perform well and proving people wrong. It gives me great pleasure.
“Next season, there will be even more, and I will keep scoring the goals.”
Interim Pirates boss Augusto Palacios said: “People never believed in the squad we had. People never believed in Benni, they never thought he can play two or three games in a row. But he fought hard and all the players did. Today we never panicked, even after we made some mistakes.”