CAPE TOWN - It was a bit of a surprise when Benni McCarthy joined Orlando Pirates in 2011 because as a kid, the former Bafana Bafana striker was an avid Kaizer Chiefs fan.
Having just returned to South Africa after a stellar career in Europe with clubs like Ajax Amsterdam, Celta Vigo, FC Porto and Blackburn Rovers, there was frenzied speculation as to where McCarthy would finish off his career. Chiefs, his boyhood love, seemed to be the obvious choice in the minds of many. Not so, said the current Cape Town City coach, and he explained why.
“Initially, after leaving England, I was going to go to play in the USA,” said McCarthy. “I was training at Ajax Cape Town to stay fit. But because I had never seen a Soweto derby, I went up to Johannesburg to watch the game and that was where I met Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza. We had a chat and he persuaded me to sign for Pirates.”
But that was not the whole story. McCarthy also admitted that his decision to join Pirates was inspired by the disrespect displayed towards him by Chiefs. “I guess what happened the night before was also important,” he said.
“I was at a restaurant and Bobby (Motaung) was at the same place. Afterwards there were all the rumours that Chiefs were trying to sign me. But Bobby’s comments were that I was finished, I was past my best, that I was washed up and that I wasn’t a big fish anymore.
“So I always had that in the back of my head, which is why I was happy to sign for Pirates - to show Chiefs how washed up I was; I would show them what a big fish looked like. I guess still now you can say that whenever I play against Chiefs, even as a coach, they know I will be out to try to hurt them.”
Motaung’s words would, of course, come back to haunt him as McCarthy went on to score on his debut for Pirates and he subsequently also inspired the Buccaneers to the treble that season.
And, having won the title with the black and white half of Soweto, McCarthy became the first South African to win three league titles with three different football clubs on two different continents: Ajax Amsterdam, FC Porto and Pirates.
Now, with all of this as background, McCarthy will again be looking to hurt his childhood love when City and Chiefs meet in an Absa Premiership fixture at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (3pm).
It certainly has all the ingredients of a game not to be missed: two top-class teams linked by passion and payback. The City coach, though, disclosed that, despite all that had gone before, he still had a special place in his heart for Chiefs.
“Overall, though, I still have a soft spot for Chiefs,” he said. “It’s the club I loved as a child. Growing up, I supported Chiefs. My dad was a massive Chiefs fan and as kids, if we didn’t support Chiefs, well, then we would have to find another place to stay.”