Orlando Pirates, the PSL’s defending champions and current log leaders, bring down two of the Mother City’s favourite football sons when they tackle Ajax Cape Town at the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night (kick off 8pm).
Wearing the famous black and white colours of the popular Soweto club are Moeneeb Josephs and Benni McCarthy, two players who learnt their trade right here on the dusty streets and alleys of the Cape Flats.
Both have gone on to carve successful club and international careers in football.
Striker McCarthy donned his boots and used it to travel from Hanover Park and then take in countries like Holland, Spain, Portugal and England. This season, after a lucrative decade playing in Europe, he returned to sign for Pirates.
Goalkeeper Josephs, from Westridge in Mitchell’s Plain, was just 17 years old when drafted into the Cape Town Spurs first team squad. He then went on to spend seven wonderful years with Ajax Cape Town, even winning the PSL’s coveted Players’ Player of the Year award in the 2002-2003 season.
He left to join Bidvest Wits in 2006, spent two seasons there, before transferring to Pirates, where he achieved the club success he has always desired – Cup trophies as well as the PSL title last season, and Josephs is indeed a happy and contented man.
Internationally, the 31-year-old Josephs is entitled to as much acclaim.
He made his Bafana Bafana debut in 2003 and played at the 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana. He was in South Africa’s 2010 World Cup squad on home soil – and he got his big chance at the event when regular goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off against Uruguay. Josephs also played in the following match against France.
A larger-than-life personality between the sticks, Josephs was a key figure in Pirates winning the league championship last season – and he has been instrumental in Pirates’ charge to regain their trophy this season.
“We are coming down to Cape Town with just one aim, and that is to get the three points on offer,” said Josephs.
“We have worked very hard to get into a position where we can again challenge for the title, and we do not want to let it slip now.
“Ajax will be tough opponents, they always are.
Also, in the past, we have found it tough to beat Ajax in Cape Town... we want to get rid of that statistic and prove that we can do well against them on their own home ground.
“At training this week, we have been working very hard at what we consider Ajax’s weak areas, and we want to take advantage of it on Friday.”
Pirates, though, will have to do without two of their more influential players – midfielders Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa. Both are suspended.
But Pirates have such a big and talented squad, that it will be easy for caretaker-coach Augusto Palacios to pluck someone from the bench and expect a top-notch performance.
Peruvian Palacios took over when the Soweto side fired Brazilian coach Julio Leal, and Josephs said the new man has been good for the confidence of the Pirates squad.
“Augusto (Palacios) is a players’ coach and he has lifted the mood at the club,” said Josephs. Since he took over, the team has been much closer and the togetherness that was lacking is back. We are one team, working together for a common cause, and that is to win the title again.”
Josephs is a motivator and an ebullient character who is able to inspire those around him. He has been a galvanising force at every club he’s played for...
But even the ever-enthusiastic Josephs doffed his cap for the role McCarthy has played at Pirates.
“The name ‘Benni’ speaks for itself,” said the goalkeeper about his fellow-Capetonian.
“Benni has been a breath of fresh air at Pirates. He has brought his spirit, his experience and knowledge to bear on the club. He helps out with the younger players, offering encouragement, advice, and tips on how to make their way in football.
“He has been a real force for us, and his goals have been crucial in keeping us at the top of the table.
“Also, Benni is a real fiery character, and his fighting instinct and spirit, his refusal to give up, have been important for us in games when we have been behind.”
Last season, Pirates pipped Ajax to the league title on the final day of PSL action.
This time, it looks like it will go all the way to the last day of the season again – with Pirates (48 points), Mamelodi Sundowns (46), SuperSport United (45) and Moroka Swallows (44) battling it out to be crowned PSL champions.
Josephs has no doubt about who will win. He’s confident they have what it takes to retain the title – it doesn’t matter who the next opponent is.
He does admit, though, that there will be an air of nostalgia when he runs on to the Cape Town Stadium against his old club on Friday night.
“I guess one can’t help but feel something, but it will quickly pass,” said Josephs.
“My heart is with Pirates, this is my club. We are in a fighting position to win the championship for a second successive year, and if it means that Ajax will have to be beaten, well, then that is what we will do.”