The Booooooths will soon be ringing around South African football stadiums once more. Matthew Booth, the towering centre-back released by Mamelodi Sundowns at the end of last season, has finally signed for Ajax Cape Town after “protracted negotiations” in the boardroom.
With rookie boss Maarten Stekelenburg struggling to live up to the standards set by the Urban Warriors under Foppe de Haan, Booth’s calm assurance at the back may help the club get over their shock Telkom Knock-out quarter-final defeat at the hands of the lowly Golden Arrows in Cape Town last weekend.
Booth’s first outing won’t be easy though. After the international break, Ajax resume their faltering league campaign against runaway leaders SuperSport United on 18 November. Ajax were denied the title on the final day of last season – this term under Stekelenburg, they are currently eighth, a full ten points adrift of Gavin Hunt’s frontrunners.
Fish Hoek-born Booth, 34, was first spotted in the Cape Town Spurs junior ranks in 1994 - his dad Paul played amateur football for Fish Hoek FC. Booth ended up playing 92 games for Spurs between 1994 and 1998 before his first foray at Sundowns. The lure of foreign football saw an unsuccessful loan spell at rugged English club Wimbledon when they were in the top flight before going east to Russian, where he played 52 games for Rostov and 107 for Krylia Sovetov.
His return to Sundowns was hampered by a career-threatening knee injury early this year. Though he claimed to have regained full fitness, he was “let go” around the time Johan Neeskens arrived to take over the Brazilians.
That acrimonious exit left the 1.98m (6ft 6in) bitter and bewildered but the sun didn’t quite go down on the big man - he battled back and has been happily training with hometown club Ajax for nearly two months. Before last year’s World Cup in South Africa Booth – married to Pimville beauty Sonia - was used in an advertising campaign as the “Face of Africa” and featured heavily in promotions with LG and Vodacom, see what I wrote at the time http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2010/04/matthew-booth-unexpected-face-of-south.html.
American and Spanish journalists at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa thought Booth was being booed every time he touched the ball for Bafana – until it was explained the word Boooooth has a final syllable.
At the time, his wife Sonia said: "The foreign journalists thought it was a racist thing. I just laughed. But part of me wanted to say, 'They're not booing him. He's my husband, and trust me, I know!'"
Though he was picked in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s World Cup squad of 23 and featured in the final friendly against Denmark in Atteridgeville, Booth failed to play a single minute as South Africa became the first host nation not to reach the knock-out stages. Parreira effectively ended his international career after an 11 year period which included the 2000 Olympics and 37 full caps.
Booth, who agreed personal terms with Ajax a month ago, told kickoff.com last week: “Everything is going well. I played my first 45 minutes against Santos in a friendly game at the weekend and came through okay, even though I am still not sharp.
“We have another friendly game against Hanover Park and I am looking forward to another nice game. Ajax has a good medical team and they are looking after me very well.”
But the signing was delayed at boardroom level with Booth finally signing a contract until the end of the season – it will be extended for a further two years if he can prove his fitness.
Stekelenburg said after the belated pen had been put to paper: “Matthew’s experience on and off the field is something we are looking for. He is a fantastic player who adds some things that we currently lack in our squad.
“Our young players will learn a lot from him. We feel that Matthew adds balance to our current squad and look forward to him being part of our team. His presence and height will strengthen our defensive aerial power.”
Club CEO George Comitis said: “Matthew will add tremendous value to the club, especially in guiding the young players from our academy.
“We always first look at our youth academy for additions to our squad but we knew we needed an experienced defender.”