South Africa’s prodigal genius. When he is on song and fully fit, Benni McCarthy is regarded as one of the deadliest finishers in the game, and how South Africans wish they will have a fit and geared-up Benni McCarthy to call on for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. He has been the country’s leading striker for over a decade now and, as his career approaches sunset, this is likely to be his last international competition. So he should be eager to make a lasting impression and remind people of the old Benni. McCarthy burst out on the international scene in 1997 when, as a youngster from the impoverished Cape Flats in Cape Town, he made lasting impression at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Malaysia. He was quickly promoted to the senior national side, and a year later, he becamse an instant hero after finishing as joint-top goalscorer at the 1998 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso with seven goals and being named best player after the event. He soon attracted international interest, and his move to Dutch side Ajax introduced him to the world stage.
McCarthy, next to Lucas Radebe, remains South Africa’s most successful export since emerging from international isolation. He has been Bafana Bafana’s leading goalscorer for years now with 31 goals, having taken the baton from Shaun Bartlett when the latter retired from the game. He is the only South African to score an international hat-trick, and he is also the only South African to win a UEFA Champions League medal when he was part of the successful Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto side that won the trophy in 2004. He finished fourth in voting for the African Footballer of the Year award in 2004, having also finished fifth for the prestigious honour in 1998. However, he did not play at the 2004 Cup of Nations after a falling out with the coach. He achieved a long-held ambition by moving to England in 2006, and finished as the Premier League's second best scorer in his first year with Blackburn with 18 goals. He joined West Ham United earlier this year on a three-year contract.
While he is a man who polarises opinion in his country of birth, his potential contribution to the team goes unchallenged. McCarthy missed out on last summer's FIFA Confederations Cup after a fall-out with then-coach, Joel Santana, and his presence up-front was solely missed by an otherwise gallant South African side that went on to lose out to Spain in the third-place play-off.