South Africa’s top scorer Benni McCarthy has been offered a way out of his West Ham nightmare – by Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
Yesterday’s Glasgow Evening Times splashed with the story that McCarthy, 33, is being targeted for a move in the January transfer window by the legendary Bhoys, not to be confused with South Africa’s Bloemfontein Celtic, though both sides wear the traditional green-and-white hoops.
Celtic boss Lennon is “well aware of McCarthy’s availability” after his efforts to sign Spurs midfielder Niko Kranjcar broke down.
McCarthy would jump at the chance of playing at a packed Parkhead after a season of misery, diets and cushions with the rock-bottom Hammers in the Premier League.
McCarthy, signed from Blackburn for £2.5m by Gianfranco Zola in the last January transfer window, suffered a knee injury in his opening game for West Ham in February. Then his weight ballooned and the Cape Town-born striker missed out on selection for Bafana Bafana’s World Cup squad on home soil.
He returned to a series of lurid stories about his weight in the British press and was fined two weeks' wages by new club owner David Sullivan, who said: “I have a better Body Mass Index. And I’m 60.”
McCarthy worked hard to reduce his weight and has returned to the squad under new boss Avram Grant, but rarely makes an appearance ahead of Carlton Cole and a host of under-performing strikers. When he did turn out for West Ham last month, one British journalist described him as being “rusty” and looking like “something out of Acorn Antiques”.
Lennon is weighing up whether to take McCarthy on a loan deal until the end of the season or sign him permanently.
With Gary Hooper still missing for at least another month through injury, Lennon desperately needs a proven goalscorer - and McCarthy’s goals-per-game record would suggest he would thrive in the SPL, which is traditionally dominated by Celtic and arch-rivals Rangers. He has scored a record 31 goals in 79 games for Bafana Bafana and hit 37 in 109 at Blackburn. But his 34 in 74 games for Jose Mourinho's European Champions Porto really put him on the map. Mind you, that was back in 2003-2006.
Given the club’s Roman Catholic roots, even McCarthy’s surname fits the bill! His deal at West Ham runs until 2012 but with just six substitute appearances in the Premier League this season, his departure will not be a surprise.
Lennon is losing interest in 26-year-old Croatian Kranjcar, who is out of favour at Spurs over the £6m price tag. McCarthy would be available for about a third of that.
McCarthy’s age will not be a problem. Canadian Dwayne De Rosario, 32, and former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg, 33, are both training with the squad pending deals.
Lennon, who himself signed a 12-month contract in the summer, said: "I think it's fair to say we are dealing in the short term but that's not to protect me.
"I'm doing what I can to get players who can win the championship for the club. It's a big year for us.
"I've brought in the likes of Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley and Efrain Juarez to look after the club's development in the next few years.
"But I also want a couple of kings in the team who can talk others through the games at times."
Celtic are currently top of the Scottish Premier, a point clear of Rangers – but their Protestant arch-rivals have two games in hand before the traditional Old Firm derby between the two sides at Ibrox on Sunday. Third placed side Hearts are five points adrift of the Glaswegian duo.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.