Interviews

The big interview: Benni McCarthy – “I was heartbroken to score twice against Man United – and Mourinho hammered me for it”

Benni McCarthy
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How did it feel to miss out on the 2010 World Cup, given it was being staged in your home country? Do you think your off-field reputation went before you?
Matt Baldwin, via Twitter

I was gutted. It was the first World Cup in my country – the first in Africa – and I wasn’t there. Unfortunately, I had a love/hate relationship with the national team. There were too many club-versus-country battles and I was accused of not being patriotic.

But if I’d gone to play friendly games for the national team I could forget about playing for my club the following weekend. Clubs put pressure on me not to go, and I gave priority to the clubs who paid my wages every week. I wanted to play for both but it was impossible, and I was accused of turning my back on my country. People in South Africa had a grudge against me.

When it came to the World Cup, they knew they could hurt me by not selecting me. But I was still very proud of my country when it hosted the World Cup – relieved, too, because it staged a great World Cup.

What was it like to be fined for being “too fat”? Does it frustrate you that this is the perception of your time in British football?
James The Mackem, via Twitter

I had Sam Allardyce telling me I should be 80 kilos, but I wasn’t fat

It frustrated me a lot. I was 85 kilos and fine at that weight; I scored a lot of goals at Blackburn at that weight [under Mark Hughes]. I had Sam Allardyce telling me I should be 80 kilos, but I wasn’t fat. I was 80 kilos when I joined Ajax as a kid – I was never going to be that weight 12 years later. Sam kept fining me because I was 84 or 83. He said I could be one of the best players if I was 80. He had it stuck in his mind that I should be 80.

Did you feel let down by West Ham, especially that they went to the media with the weight story? Do you have any regrets from your time at the club?
Keil Hampton, via Twitter

No, I have no regrets. West Ham is a great club with fantastic fans. I was going to join them from Porto in 2005. Everything had been agreed and I was even in London, sitting at Upton Park, ready to sign for Alan Pardew. Porto just needed to fax confirmation. Instead, they faxed that they didn’t want to sell me.

Do you stand by a quote of yours that I once saw, in which you said Karren Brady “is the devil with tits”? What do you think of her and the current ownership, in general?
Rudy Todd, London

[Laughs] West Ham are flying and Karren is part of that, so who am I to knock them? But she started throwing blows at me and I can step into the ring with anyone. I wasn’t going to stand there as she spanked me in public, so I hit back. Do I stand by what I said? Yes, I do.

PAL'S POSER

Benni, you’ve been the subject of many expensive transfers over the years. But do you know how much I had to pay to get you from your first club, Crusaders?
Rob Moore, ex-Seven Stars owner)
I do! Two sets of football kits. And, Mumsa [‘mother’ in Afrikaans], I know for a fact you got them for free from our sponsor Adidas. Then you sold me for $5 million!

How important was it to finish your career in South Africa, at Orlando Pirates? Is it true the fans nicknamed you Big Brother? Why?
Amber Pratt, Johannesburg

It felt right to finish my career where it all started. I felt that I played well and entertained people, and I was top scorer. We won trophies. It was a lot of fun. I’ve not heard ‘Big Brother’ before, but there are some great nicknames in South African football. We had a young player called ‘Grandpa’ in our team, but there are legendary names. One player was called ‘Dancing Shoes’.

You’re the top scorer in Bafana Bafana history. How much pride does that achievement give you?
Tom van der Meer, Pretoria

It gives me great satisfaction to have gone from a gangster ghetto to being my nation’s all-time top scorer. The first South African to score in the World Cup finals, to win the Champions League – it’s not a bad story to tell my grandkids, is it? I’m very proud.

You’ve been very outspoken about how European sides treat new arrivals from Africa. Is the current system working, or is it still failing young, vulnerable players? What is it you most object to?
Freddie Harvey, via email

Blackburn were so professional in contrast, but I appreciate that I arrived for a big sum of money

Clubs have improved; they do try to protect their investments. It’s much easier for young African players now – the world has become smaller. But I’m still surprised that Celta Vigo paid so much money for me and then didn’t help me with a translator or help me with getting a house. I didn’t even know the word for estate agency. Blackburn were so professional in contrast, but I appreciate that I arrived for a big sum of money. It’s not the same for a lot of young African players.

Why are you living in Scotland?! Isn’t it a bit cold for someone born and raised in South Africa? Have you tried haggis, deep-fried Mars bars or Irn-Bru?
Jamie Robertson, Dundee

My wife wanted to live back in Edinburgh, where her parents live. I had to follow! She’d done enough travelling around with me. I tried the deep-fried Mars bar but it was too sweet for me. I do treat myself to one can of Irn-Bru a week, though. I love haggis and eat it all the time. But I don’t want to know what it’s made of!

Did you wear a kilt at your wedding? The proper way?
Gareth, Edinburgh

Yes, and yes [gets his phone out to proudly show photos to FFT]. I went commando.

How did your appearance for amateurs Whitehill Welfare come about? What was the standard like? Any desire to keep playing up here in Scotland?
Sam France, via Twitter

My wife’s sister’s husband plays for Whitehill Welfare and they had a shortage of players because they all went to T in the Park! A friendly against Hamilton had been arranged so I was asked to fill in. I scored and then other teams asked me to come out of retirement.

What plans do you have for the future? Do you want to stay in the game?
Jason Logan, Leeds

I want to stay in football. I love football. I want to give back to the game that gave me everything. Neil Lennon was very helpful to me when he was at Celtic and I used to go there and help out most days. He gave me the hunger to improve players, to work my way up and become a manager.

I learned a lot playing under Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Co Adriaanse, Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce. I want to go into coaching and work my way up.

This feature originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!

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