Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa during the International Women Friendly match between Japan and South Africa on 10 November 2019 at Kitakyushu Stadium Japan Pic Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix
Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa during the International Women Friendly match between Japan and South Africa on 10 November 2019 at Kitakyushu Stadium Japan Pic Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix

Kgatlana’s path similar to McCarthy

By Minenhle Mkhize Time of article published May 24, 2020

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Thembi Kgatlana has been a breath of fresh for Banyana Banyana, just like Benni McCarthy was for Bafana Bafana during his glittering international career.

Kgatlana has become a pillar of strength and source of inspiration for the women’s senior national team with her important goals and contribution.

Experts have spotted plenty of similarities between the legendary talisman McCarthy and the mercurial Kgatlana. McCarthy shot to the fore during the 1998 Burkina Faso at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) where he scooped the Golden Boots award. Unfortunately, that Bafana team succumbed to a defeat in the final at the expense of Egypt.

Kgatlana had a similar combination of good and bad luck when Banyana lost to Nigeria in 2018.

Consolation for the South Africans came when Kgatlana was awarded the Golden Boots award for being the leading goalscorer.

McCarthy then continued to enjoy his best football career with FC Porto in Portugal where he won the Uefa Champions League and two league medals.

Kgatlana finds herself playing in the same country for the Benfica women’s team. Can she follow on the footsteps of McCarthy at club level?

In an interview with South African Football Journalists Association (Safja), Kgatlana admitted that she is inspired by McCarthy but doesn’t want to compare herself to the all-time leading goalscorer for Bafana.

“Of course the story of Benni inspires me and can inspire anyone but I think it will be absurd for me to want to compare myself to him or to think I can achieve what he achieved. I mean, we live in a different era and he also played in a different era back then when was still playing,” Kgatlana explained.

Ironically, McCarthy netted the first goal for Bafana in their debut World Cup appearance in 1998 Fifa World Cup in France. Twenty-one-years later, Kgatlana, scored the first goal for Banyana at the World Cup also in France.

“I think for the longest time what I told myself is that, I don’t necessarily attach myself to teams because that could limit me as a player to say I’ll be in Benfica for five years and I’ll achieve this.

“If I signed for Benfica for a year, I’m going to give my all for Benfica. I don’t want to be in a situation where if I get an opportunity and then I answer questions about what I said, I’ll stay here and I want to achieve what Benni achieved,” she added.

Her exploits have already earned her the African Footballer of the Year. That is something that eluded McCarthy in his sterling career.

“For me, it is all about achieving my goals based on what I see in front of me. If I see an opportunity of playing for Benfica for one season and I achieve my goals and if that’s enough for me, I’ve ticked the right boxes. If another team wants me and I can see that I can go a step higher, I’ll do the same thing, I’ll go with the same mentality which is to serve and play my time while I’m there,” Kgatlana stated.

But just as Kgatlana did in 2016 competing in the Olympic Games in Brazil, McCarthy was the vital cog for the national Under 23 side in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

The sky is the limit Kgatlana. She is at the prime of her career at the age of 24. Football has already taken Kgatlana to the United States and Japan.

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