Thursday, 25 August 2011

Clayton Daniels makes instant bid for signing of the season as Johan Neeskens purrs at last

After a faultless first appearance, there appears to be an instant new contender for signing of the season in the South African Premier League.

For four years, Ajax Cape Town thrived on the industry of one Clayton Jagers, this summer, Mamelodi Sundowns will be parading him under his new moniker, Clayton Michael Daniels.

Before the 27-year-old central defender from the Cape Flats arrived at the self-styled Brazilians last week, we had three leading contenders.

Bernard Parker from Holland’s FC Twente Enschede and Lehlohonolo Majoro from Amazulu have helped Kaizer Chiefs take the early lead in the title race. Benni McCarthy arrived from his goal-free nightmare at West Ham, struck after eight minutes for Orlando Pirates and scored again on Wednesday night against Maritzburg United before his controversial dismissal heralded a shock defeat.

The hype that surrounds Soweto’s big two generally thrusts the Amakhosi and the Buccaneers into the limelight, but there can be little doubt about the performance of the week. Daniels’ debut inspired a 4-0 win over Moroka Swallows at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe stadium, Sundowns’ temporary home in Atteridgeville, west of Tshwane.

Sundowns’ highly-pedigreed new boss, Johan Neeskens, saw his side struggle initially in an opening 0-0 draw with a very average AmaZulu before a 2-0 win over promoted Jomo Cosmos.

But Wednesday night, with Daniels working his magic behind the resurrected former South African player of the year Teko Modise and Bafana Bafana spearhead Katlego “Killer” Mphela, Neeskens was purring after his side had registered the biggest win of the SAPL season so far.

While captain Method Mwanjali sat in the stands watching his hastily drafted-in replacement, Dutch master Neeskens raved: “I’m very, very happy with Clayton’s performance. He has class.

“It’s supposed to be difficult the first time you play for a new team but he showed what kind of a player he is – and I know he can do even better.”

Bemused Birds boss Gordon Ingesund, a man who knows a thing or two about South African football, said: "Playing Sundowns is more like playing Bafana Bafana ... they are all national team material.”

Though Mwanjali will be back for the MTN8 semi-final second leg against Orlando Pirates at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday – there was Method in the madness, Daniels is cup tied for the clash which sees the Buccaneers carrying a narrow 3-2 advantage – the arrival of Daniels will certainly give the SAPL’s leading title winners a significant edge over the months to come.

Daniels himself says: "I have signed a three year deal with Sundowns and I'm hoping my career will get better, that's my aim and I don't see why not because I have joined the right club."

After going on trial to Ere Divisie club Vitesse Arnhem and mother club Ajax Amsterdam pre-season, there is always the Dutch connection. Daniels adds: "I had a big talk with Ajax, they felt it was time for me to move on. Sundowns were interested, they play good football and coming from a Dutch background in terms of coaching I felt that it won't be difficult adjusting to life under Neeskens.”

Daniels, who hails from Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats, played for amateur Capetonian outfits Celtic United, Clyde Pinelands and Riverside Rangers before being spotted by the Ajax scouting system.

The man who officially changed his surname from Jagers to Daniels “for personal reasons” in February, 2008, adds: "They’ve all given me a warm welcome at Sundowns, the only thing that is left now is to work hard and fight for my place in the team. I am so happy to be at a big club and I am ready to grab my chance.

"I will always be grateful to Ajax. I will always treasure the great memories I shared with them.”

But given the troubled journey of another former Ajax central defender who went north to Chloorkop - Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira, who is now clamouring for a return to Cape Town - Daniels knows he has only just begun.

BREAKING: South Africa to host 2013 African Nations Cup as Libya, for obvious reasons, pull out. More to come on that...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Real Truth: Jose Mourinho will put up with the Catalan v Castilian hypocrisy for a while longer

“I am learning to be a hypocrite and I don’t want to be one.”

With that short phrase Jose Mourinho, the much-maligned coach of Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, has restored sanity at the Bernebeu – whilst admitting he won’t be there for long.

The papers were full of Mourinho leaving the Madridistas after last week’s inglorious incident, above, which left Spanish football up in arms after Barcelona’s tempestuous Spanish Royal Cup triumph.

Mourinho moved quickly to quell reports of his imminent demise – but in the subtext of his official statement on the Real Madrid website lies the root of his unhappiness in a nation where Catalan and Castilian speakers live under the same flag while enthusiastically flying their own colours at sporting events.

It was the Special One’s spokesman Eladio Parames who first suggested Mourinho may leave after poking a finger in the eye of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova. With reports of a 12-match ban for that wayward digit being bandied around, Mourinho was clearly unhappy with a lack of support from the board at Real, who appear to find Jose’s passion undignified and slightly embarrassing.

Similar rumours surrounded his Champions League winning spell at Internazionale, where Italian journalists hounded the Portguese boss, who started his managerial career as Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Barcelona of all places, for being “over the top”.

In England, where he broke the 52-year Chelsea title drought but not London’s Champions League hunger strike, there were no such doubts. His wild-eyed passion was applauded, they miss him still. Many believe he may yet return, perhaps to Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson finally retires in 2057, or to Arsenal, where Arsene Wenger pronounced himself “drained” yesterday after seeing Samir Nasri join Manchester City just a week after Cesc Fabregas finally departed for, irony of ironies, Barcelona.

But yesterday, as his spokesman claimed his mobile phone had been hijacked, creating the furore around Jose's future, Mourinho assured Bernebeu fans in an open letter on "Only those who don't know me can dream, make up or believe I may leave Real Madrid at this stage…

"I believe many people were surprised by the quality football showcased by Real Madrid during the preseason and it would be surprising news to them if I left the club now. Impossible!

"I have a fantastic president who is very intelligent and with whom I have a great friendship. I also have a director general who works for the club 24 hours a day, so my motivation is enormous and my Madridismo is even greater than that of some pseudo-Madridistas

"There is no way I'm leaving. No way!

"I also wish to apologise to Madridistas, and only to them, for my attitude in our last game. Some people are better adapted to the hypocrisy in football than I am, and they hide their faces and speak in whispers deep inside tunnels.

"I'm not learning to be a hypocrite, and I don't want to.

Best wishes to all. We'll see each other tomorrow at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium."

Though the whiff of hypocrisy surrounds yesterday’s assertion of loyalty to Real, the pain of continual humiliation at the hands of Barcelona – and the diving, conniving, dramatic nature of such defeats against a Barca side steeped in chip-on-the-shoulder Catalunacy – does not sit easily with the Special One.

Mourinho may stay with Real for now. But one more frenzied Barca showdown may end his fragile affair with Spanish football.

See also written on May 4 this year.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Why the Soweto giants should be able to match the passion of El Classico

ONE glance at this week’s fascinating El Classico and you know exactly where you want to see that level of competition, that win-at-all-costs mentality; a combustible derby that drives fans wild, Brazilians nuts... and forces special men like Jose Mourinho to stick his finger in Catalan eyes.

Bring it on at the next Soweto derby, I say. Quite possibly in the MTN8 final if Orlando Pirates see off Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs outgun Ajax Cape Town over the two legs of the semi-finals kicking off this weekend.

When Barcelona edged Real Madrid 3-2 to win the Spanish Super Cup 5-4 on aggregate, the world looked on breathless. Scintillating football, two dynamite goals from the diminutive Lionel Messi, a red card for Marcello for scything down Cesc Fabregas on debut – all bathed in the implacable glow of hatred that erupts when two tribes go to war and football goes to Hollywood.

South Africa’s Premier League can offer exactly that. The parallels are all there. Just like La Liga, the local set-up offers only two real giants – trophy-grabbing Barcelona (Orlando Pirates) and frustrated also-rans Real Madrid (Kaizer Chiefs) with sides like Valencia (Ajax Cape Town), Villarreal (Mamelodi Sundowns) struggling to compete despite a lack of resources and, ultimately, a far smaller fan base.

Like Barcelona, Pirates are the people’s team, with a huge following and three trophies behind them, like Real Madrid, Kaizer Chiefs are the historical favourites who often appear to back by parastatal forces such is the desire for success – but despite vast spending they just can’t get one over on Pirates, as we saw at the recent Carling Black Label Cup Final, where Itumeleng Khune’s penalty gave the Buccaneers victory in a shoot-out.

If you brave the cold night air and gaze at the stars, legend has it you can still see Khune’s penalty orbiting the globe. Or so Irvin Khosa, the Piratical Iron Duke, would have us believe.

But come back to earth. Consider the further parallels between Spain’s La Liga and the Absa Premier. How about the third force? Those separatist Basques at Real Sociedad (Amazulu) and the isolated populist strongholds like Real Mallorca (Bloemfontein Celtic) and Zaragoza (Platinum Stars)... and the also rans in the big cities like Atletico Madrid (Moroka Swallows) and Getafe (Supersports United).

Essentially though, it is all about the two giants. They have the resources, the fan base, the sponsors, to push themselves way beyond the rest. Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs should be contenders for continental domination, they shouldn’t be skirmishing with the also-rans domestically.

With Benni McCarthy (an inflated version of Lionel Messi) back on home soil, the promise of an African Champions League becomes real if Bafana Bafana’s top scorer can just stay fit. Real Madrid fans (and Gary Bailey on Supersport) insist the same is true of Messi and Barca. One injury to the little one and all is lost.

Kaizer Chiefs, with Bernard Parker (a hard-working Cristiano Ronaldo) signed up and Lehlehonolo Majoro (a spikey-haired Kaka) urging them on, can look to the skills of custodian Itumeleng Khune (a superior Iker Casillas) to keep their challenge on line.

Oh, we can dream. Saturday, September 10. The MTN8 final. Forget the Spanish Super Cup, this one’s worth R8million to the winners.

Imagine Siphiwe Tshabalala opens the scoring for Chiefs with a 30-yard cracker reminiscent of his World Cup opening effort against Mexico just over a year ago.

Pirates respond with a flurry of horrific challenge before McCarthy, making his long-awaited first start for the Buccaneers, bending home a 25-yard free-kick with Khune confounded just before half-time.

On the sidelines, Amakhosi boss Vladimir Vermezovic reverts to his Russian roots and sticks his finger firmly in the eye of Bucsalona’s Brazilian boss Julio Leal. In the ensuing riot, Chiefs owner Kaizer Motuang, with General Manager Bobby and player-son Junior in attendance, bashes the Iron Duke with marketing manager and daughter Jessica’s handbag.

Somehow peace is restored. Early in the second half, the resurgent Josta Dladla gets on the end of a Bernard Parker cross to volley brilliantly past Moneeb Josephs, just minutes after being scythed down. Dladla celebrates with blood running down his shins and, amid incredible scenes, Tinashe Nengomasha is red carded for showing an elaborate v-sign to Irvin Khosa in the stands.

Josephs, furious, throws his gloves away and dons an outfielders shirt, determined to make his presence felt.

And Pirates hit back, with Isaac Chansa levelling to complete the Zambian’s comeback from a worrying ankle injury.

It’s all too much. Extra-time looms. And then it’s McCarthy, too fat for West Ham, not fit enough for WC2010, breaking through the middle, he beats too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, and rams the winner into the top corner. Cue pandemonium.

In the zebra stripes, substitutes Mthokozisi Yende and Thomas Sweswe are then sent off as a mass brawl erupts but the jubilant Pirates, looking ahead to an African Champions League victory, ignore the angry Amakhosi fans to dance their victory jig.

The skull and crossbones flies high. The world is tuned in to witness a truly astonishing clash between South Africa’s Sowetan soccer giants. The global audience is unanimous in agreement: what a derby, right up there with Real v Barca, Celtic v Rangers, Man U v Man C. Phew.

Ah, we can dream. In fluent Spanish.

MTN8 Semi-finals:

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Kaizer Chiefs vs. Ajax Cape Town 20h15 MTN05

FNB Stadium

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Orlando Pirates vs. Mamelodi Sundowns 15h00 MTN06

Orlando Stadium

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ajax Cape Town vs Kaizer Chiefs 20h15 MTN07

Cape Town Stadium

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Mamelodi Sundowns vs. Orlando Pirates 15h00 MTN08

Loftus Versfeld.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Benni McCarthy in no rush to start for Orlando Pirates. Karren Brady in a rush to insult the unwanted Hammer

I'm on 0791953899 if you'd like to discuss this

Benni McCarthy admits he is unlikely to start for Orlando Pirates in their first home game of the season against in-form Platinum Stars tomorrow night, despite scoring after eight minutes on his debut last Friday night.

The 33-year-old, who scored with his first touch after coming on as a 62nd mnute substitute in the Buccaneers’ SAPL-opening 2-0 victory over Black Leopards in Polokwane, admits: “I'm not in a rush to fight for a starting place. I want to work myself in because I haven't played for a bit.”

He told “At training I feel completely fine, but when you play a match it is completely different, because the pace is much quicker.”

McCarthy’s effort in front of the Piratical ANCYL leader Julius Malema at the Peter Mokabe Stadium means he has scored more goals for Pirates in 30 minutes than he did for his previous club West Ham in 18 months.

And in case he has forgotten his nightmare R25m move from Blackburn to the Hammers in January 2010, their vice-chairman Karren Brady resumed hostilities with McCarthy in her diary in the Sun in England.

The celebrity woman-in-football, very vocal over having to pay-off the Capetonian as her club were relegated last season, said tartly: "West Ham's former scales-buster Benni McCarthy described me from South Africa as "a devil with tits". Nice of him. But Benni, I'm meant to have tits, you aren't!"

McCarthy will laugh off such jibes before tomorrow’s first game at the Orlando Stadium, where he alone will be responsible for a bumper turn-out against a side which crushed Ajax Cape Town2-0 in their opening game.

His weight is down, his knees appear strong and Bafana Bafana’s record goalscorer smiles: “I am very happy. It is a fantastic feeling to score on my debut for the club.

“Pirates took a big chance signing me (after he was given R15m to leave West Ham) and the fans have been wonderful. The Ghost made me feel at home and gave me more confidence. The coach, Julio Leal, introduced me on the pitch and you can’t feel any better than when you repay a club that has shown so much belief in you. I dedicate my goal to the Pirates family.”

As for his fitness – McCarthy was twice fined for being overweight at West Ham as he battled against a knee injury – Benni grinned: "In training, Tlou Segolela is so quick and it is really hard to catch up with him. When he goes down the flank you have to get yourself in goal-scoring position and do the business.

“But I think I have done okay for someone who hasn’t played for a long time.”

Friday, 12 August 2011

Your match by match verdicts as South African and English Premier Leagues kick-off

So Arsenal have lost Samir Nasri (£22m to Manchester City) and Cesc Fabregas (£35m to some club in Catalunia) but apparently Jadson, the 27-year-old Brazilian from Shakhtar Donetsk, is arriving for £12m. Given Gervinho's arrival for a similar fee last month, that makes a cool profit of around £13m for Arsene Wenger.
But he's not a banker, he's a football manager. And Arsenal are without a trophy for six years. Perhaps the only way that will change will be a brief foray in to the London for a quick bit of silverware looting as our slightly doctored picture shows.
English experts are saying Manchester United will win the Premier League again this season, with big-spending rivals Manchester City runners-up. Chelsea in third, with Liverpool edging Arsenal for the fourth Champions League spot. That leaves Spurs in sixth, possibly Aston Villa seventh. Relegation looms for promoted pair Swansea and Queens Park Rangers plus perrenial strugglers Wigan, though Wolves may howl too. Norwich, up as champions, should survive.
In South Africa, so much depends on those two big European striker signings. Will Benni McCarthy roll back the years (and confound West Ham fans) at Orlando Pirates? Can Bernard Parker thrive in a Kaizer Chiefs zebra shirt? I think both will do okay if fit.
That puts Chiefs and Pirates in the top two with Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town completing the top four. Ajax without Thulani Serero may struggle to stay ahead of Supersports United and Gavin Hunt's new-look outfit. Jomo Sono's Cosmos will go straight back down with Platinum Stars, backed by the Bafokeng mining millions, the surprise package.
But for a match by match verdict, have a squint at this... then get down to the betting shop:

English Premier League


Blackburn 2 Wolves 0 (Arsenal regret not signing Samba)

Fulham 2 Aston Villa 2 (Darren Bent both goals for Villa)

Liverpool 3 Sunderland 2 (Gyan can't do it alone, King Kenny magic)

QPR 0 Bolton 0 (Yawn)

Tottenham v Everton (postponed, riots stopped play)

Wigan 1 Norwich 2 (Canaries singing)

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 0 (Wenger offers to resign)


Stoke 0, Chelsea 3 (Torres hat-trick)

West Brom 1, Manchester United 1 (Rooney injured, Fergie fuming)


Manchester City 6, Swansea 0 (Welsh rabbits in the spotlight)

South African Premier League

Santos 1 Moroka Swallows 2 (Ingesund revival continues)

Black Leopards 0 Orlando Pirates 1 (McCarthy comes on for ten minutes)


Free State Stars 2 SuperSport United 2 (Gavin Hunt’s new boys settling)

Platinum Stars 1 Ajax Cape Town 2 (But they miss Serero)

Golden Arrows 1 Bloem Celtic 2 (Arrows off target)

Kaizer Chiefs 4 Jomo Cosmos 2 (Majoro the hero, not Parker)


Mamelodi Sundowns 3 AmaZulu 1 (Killer Mphela on the loose)

Maritzburg Utd 0 Bidvest Wits 0 (Yawn)

That's it. I'll put the Crystal ball away.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cesc finally goes to Barca as the Premier League season dawns... and he's paying for it

CESC FABREGAS made one last visit to Arsenal’s London Colney training ground last night – to clear the personal belongings from his locker.

After three years of “will-he-won’t-he”, the 24-year-old will finally return to Barcelona, the club he left as a 16-year-old, just 24 hours before the big Premier League kick-off in England.

According to the Sun, Arsenal and Barcelona have agreed a £35.9m (R400m) fee – but Fabregas has cleared the way for his return to the Nou Camp by returning a £4.5million “loyalty bonus” due to him from the Gunners.

The low point in the long-running Fabregas transfer came last month when Estanislau Fors, the mayor of Cesc’s birthplace Arenys de Mar near Barcelona, said: "We all want Cesc to come home to Barcelona because at the moment he is living in a kidnapping. If Arsenal are truly English gentlemen they should start behaving as such. They need to stop clowning around."

They have. The final blow came when club captain Cesc refused to travel to Lisbon last Saturday, where Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Benfica. Boss Arsene Wenger, under huge pressure after six years without a trophy, said: “Cesc is not injured. He’s training normally but hasn’t played since Bolton, which is two and a half months. The situation with Cesc? I don’t want to talk about it any more.”

Arsenal will earn a further £5m from the deal – dependent on his appearances and trophies for Barca and Spain. Fabregas played 212 games for Arsenal, scoring 35 goals, but failed to pick up a single winners’ medal.

Wenger is also resigned to losing French midfielder Samir Nasri, who could even make his debut for Manchester City in their Monday-night Premier League opener against Swansea.

Nasri, also 24, has only one year left on his contract and with City prepared to pay him £180,000-a-week, Arsenal have little choice but to accept a £25m transfer fee from the richest club in football. City, backed by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour, have already grabbed Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from north London’s reds.

Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh was quoted yesterday saying: "I think both Cesc and Nasri will probably leave the club."

For Arsenal, who kick off their season against Newcastle on Sunday, the loss of Fabregas and Nasri will do little to encourage worried Gooners.

Though £12m Gervinho and youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have both been signed in the summer, the anxiety over central defence remains unsolved. Efforts to sign experienced centre-backs along the lines of Chris Samba, Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka have come to nothing. Instead, Birmingham’s Scott Dann, 24, is expected to arrive for £8m this week.

Carl Jenkinson, the full-back signed from Charlton for a paltry £1.5m, has distinguished himself with a bizarre pre-season own goal in Germany which you can see here

Valencia’s Juan Mata and/or Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian star Jadson are also under scrutiny, but Arsenal fans – used to seeing their club miss out on the big names – aren’t holding their breath.

They will be more concerned at the failure to extend the contracts of established stars Robin van Persie, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. This time next year, all three will have just a year left on their contracts, leading to further transfer sagas.

The dead wood - Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Abou Diaby, Manuel Almunia and Denilson – remain unsold, though Denilson, after a diatribe against his own club, is now at Sao Paolo on loan.

The only other big transfer likely to happen as the Premier League kicks off involves the long-running switch of Croatian Luka Modric from Spurs to Chelsea – with Israel’s Yossi Benayoun now being offered to Harry Redknapp, who has seen his side's opener against Everton tomorrow postponed due to the riots in London. South Africa captain Steven Pienaar thus gets further recovery time after his hernia operation.

Manchester City’s unsettled Argentinian Carlos Tevez will go to Inter Milan on loan – but only if Cameroon’s Samuel Eto'o moves to big spending Russians FC Anzhi Makhachkala to become the best-paid player on the plant. Anzhi, based in the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, are offering him £300,000-per-week.

Premier League opening fixtures (SA kick-off times):


Blackburn v Wolverhampton, 4pm

Fulham v Aston Villa, 4pm

Liverpool v Sunderland, 4pm

QPR v Bolton, 4pm

Tottenham v Everton, 4pm

Wigan v Norwich, 4pm

Newcastle v Arsenal, 6.30pm


Stoke v Chelsea, 2.30pm

West Brom v Man Utd, 5pm


Manchester City v Swansea, 8.45pm

In the Championship, fresh from playing in South Africa’s 3-0 win over a below-strength Burkina Faso, Bongani Khumalo flies in to play for Reading at Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester on Saturday, with Kagisho Dikgacoi’s Crystal Palace at home to Burnley. Portsmouth, with wantaway Aaron Mokoena still on board, travel to promoted South Coast neighbours Brighton.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Benni McCarthy: The bee's knees or busted knees? That's the question that has to be asked

In so many ways, Benni McCarthy's much-hyped move to Orlando Pirates is exactly what the South African Premier League has been crying out for.

An experienced, Champions League-winning South African professional arriving back in Soweto's District 18 eager to end his career with a bang. Bafana Bafana's all-time top-scorer joining South Africa's treble-winning Champions promising to become the first man to win Champions League medals in both Europe and Africa.

On Robert Marawa's excellent Discovery Sports Centre (you can't miss it from 6-7.30pm every day on Benni told us on Tuesday night: "I'm not here for a holiday, I'm here to give something back. This is not my retirement plan, I want to get out there and score goals for Pirates."

In my story which ran in the Cape Argus two Saturdays before, I expressed exactly those sentiments. Hoping the new, svelte Benni would return to South Africa for one final goal rush. You can read it here:

Since then, Benni has left Ajax Cape Town where he was "getting back to full fitness" and, barely 24 hours after being seen with Pirates' supremo Irvin Khosa at last Saturday's Carling Black Label Cup final, he signed his lucrative two-year deal and inherited the No17 Buccaneers shirt. Cue wild celebrations nationwide, except for jealous fans of Kaizer Chiefs, Ajax and Sundowns.

So everyone’s happy. But the worrying aspect is this: Benni gushed similar sentiments when he left Blackburn Rovers to join West Ham United for £2.5m (R26m) in January 2010. He called it his “dream move” and promised he had plenty of goals left in him at 32. But when push came to shove, he went down injured after a single game (a brief appearance in the defeat against Burnley), put on weight, was fined twice and missed the World Cup in his home country, dropped by Bafana Bafana despite claiming to be fit.

While his agent Rob Moore insisted he was "back to his fighting weight" after the World Cup, West Ham then left McCarthy out of their playing squad at the start of the year and despite a goal-scoring trial at Queens Park Rangers, the Hammers offered the 33-year-old £1.5m (R16m) to cut short his contract at Upton Park earlier this year.

The British newspapers had a field day, describing McCarthy as “a flop” and “a fat misfit”. And now I've got West Ham fans blowing bubbles over the concept of McCarthy being the next big thing in the South African Premier League. Some of them even tuned in to his live interview online at MetroFM on Tuesday night. They were flabbergasted to hear the man who failed to score a goal for relegated West Ham promising the world, telling us: "My love for football is back, I can't wait to start playing."

But he may have to wait. After Wednesday's open session with his new team-mates, Pirates tell us McCarthy is not fit. That he won't play in the opening MTN8 clash against Santos on Sunday at Orlando's Super Stadium. He needs "more tests".

Officially, his new boss Julio Leal said: “It was a good deal for Benni to come back home, to play under the eye of his critics. He’s a player who’s got international experience. He played at the highest level and scored goals there. He needs to work on certain aspects to be fully fit. We will do tests and take a decision on whether he plays on Saturday.”

I put up the picture above on Facebook and Twitter and took some fierce stick for suggesting the blood tests he was being subjected to on Wednesday should have been taken before a 33-year-old who couldn't get fit at West Ham for a year was signed on a two-year contract.

I’ve been accused of having something personal against McCarthy. But, with player, club and fans in mind, I'm right. Nobody wants Benni to succeed more than me. Both my son and I wear Orlando Pirates jerseys with pride, happy to make the Buccaneers' skull-and-crossbones sign to friend and foe alike.

But has Benni had the full medical? Has he got another two well-paid years at the pinnacle of African football in him? I certainly hope so. Google “Benni McCarthy” and “medical” on google news and there are no results. The club won’t comment.

Why am I so concerned? Because I can't help going back to that moment in early February 2010, when a man called Kevin Keen, the former West Ham first team coach now at Liverpool, wandered over to me while our boys were playing football together in Buckinghamshire.

I asked Kevin, who had just attended my World Cup book launch in our village bookstore at Chalfont St Peter, if Benni would be fit to spearhead South Africa's World Cup challenge on home soil.

He grimaced and said: "Benni's not looking good. He has a knee problem. South Africa may be in trouble if they think he's going to be their major World Cup striker."

I wrote on February 26 last year, nearly four months before the World Cup kick-off. His agent Rob Moore rubbished my story as "lazy journalism" and “pure speculation”. It wasn't. It was fact, as we found out on June 1, when Benni was axed by Carlos Alberto Parreira and I wrote this:

Now decide for yourself. Read those stories. Read the more recent blogs on McCarthy. Have a look at the picture above. Am I simply having a go at the great Benni McCarthy, South Africa's all-time top scorer? Or am I hoping he had a full medical before he put pen to paper at Pirates and that he will, gloriously, go on to lift an African Champions League medal to go to the one he won with Jose Mourinho's Porto in 2004?

Truth is, I wish Benni McCarthy all the best. He talks a great game, he has scored great goals, he will sell tickets all over South Africa this season. But that will only happen if the knee, originally injured while playing for Blackburn in 2007, stands up to the strain, his weight stays down... and he really is here to do the business, not enhance his retirement fund at the expense, ultimately, of the Buccaneers fans who pay to watch him and buy his replica shirt.

There is no hidden agenda. I just want Benni to go out with a bang. Not a whimper.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Bloemfontein Tower has "high hopes" of R10m Dutch move

Erick Mathoho, the 21-year-old Bloemfontein Celtic defender, has "high hopes" of clinching a R10million deal with Dutch Ere Divisie club FC Twente Enschede.

While high-profile stars like Katlego Mphela of Sundowns have failed in their bid to move to Europe this winter – Glasgow Celtic gave “Killer” just 45 minutes and five days to prove his worth at Parkhead – Mathoho’s agent Tim Sukazi insists “Tower” impressed in two appearance during his week-long trial in the lowlands.

Sukazi, a corporate lawyer who only started representing professional footballers 18 months ago, said: “We got there on the Wednesday and straight off the plane he trained twice which was heavy. Then they played 11 versus 11 and the feeling was good.

“Often players will kick each other in a trial, nobody knows anybody and it’s very competitive. But the players at FC Twente were talking to him. There were a number of triallists, another Brazilian centre-back. But the goalkeeper for instance, he was talking to Erick all the time, encouraging him. He saw something in him.

“On the Saturday afternoon they went to play a friendly match and it was quite a challenge. Mathoho speaks Venda or English, not Dutch or Portuguese. He struggled to communicate with the Brazilian. But the second half they put a Dutch boy in at centre-half who spoke good English and he played very well with Erik.

”Now we are waiting for the feedback. They had five or six from the first team watching the match, they need to get together, combine their verdicts and give us some feedback.

“I think they have seen what they want to see from a 21-yearold South African defender who obviously has great potential.”

But Mathoho’s agent revealed the major stumbling block for young foreign players hoping to settle in the EreDivisie – and it isn’t Venda-born Erick’s real first name, Molomowanadou.

Speaking on SABC MetroFM’s Discovery Sports Centre, Sukazi explained: “In the Netherlands, foreign players have to earn a certain salary, sometimes it’s top heavy for young players coming from Africa or Brazil. That can cripple the club.

“They insist on a minimum salary which amounts to around R5m a year, that’s a good thing but it makes it difficult for young players. They might not be in that bracket as yet. So how does one justify paying a young player that kind of money when he is still developing?

“But the deal is do-able. It’s up to them to make it work. Erick is not from any academy. He is a raw talent. We have high hopes.”

A fee of R10m has already been agreed with Bloemfontein Celtic but if FC Twente head coach Co Adriaanse – the man who released Bafana Bafana striker Bernard Parker - doesn’t snap up the “Venda Tower”, Mathoho may move to Israel’s Maccabi Haifa, who are willing to take the player on the basis of video evidence alone, though Sukazi admits: “It’s not the same as the Ere Divisie.”

Monday, 1 August 2011

Bongani Khumalo ready to hunt down London's nasty Lions

Bongani Khumalo is all fired up for his League debut for Reading on Saturday – against Millwall at the Madejski Stadium.

Bafana Bafana defender Bongani Khumalo – sent out on a season-long loan from Tottenham Hotspur after the Vodacom Challenge barely a week ago – played his first game in the blue-and-white hoops of the Royals in a 2-1 pre-season friendly win at neighbours Swindon Town on Saturday and immediately turned his attention to the opening Championship showdown.

It was against Millwall – the “Lions” who have a reputation as the nastiest team in the EastEnd of London – that Khumalo injured his metatarsal while loan at doomed Preston North End last season.

The Swaziland-born, Pretoria-raised 24-year-old says: "Millwall? It's a sweet start – Preston v Millwall was my last game in the Championship after my foot injury, so I'm looking forward to it. I'll be really fired up for the Lions!”

Though South African observers expressed doubt over their world-class defender going on loan to another second-tier club in England, Khumalo insists he has made the right decision.

Khumalo has played at the Madejski Stadium, just off the M4 40 miles west of London, before – when Preston were crushed 2-1 by play-off bound Reading last season.

He recalls: "It was a tough game, I remember thinking the football here is very good - the players were quick, strong and very direct - as a defender it was a busy night!

"I just got a great feeling from the club after coming here with Preston and it just felt right. I spoke with the manager Brian McDermott and I was very impressed with his plans for the season, so after that there was really only one option."

Though he was also linked to Scottish champions Rangers, Khumalo says of Reading, who reached the play-off final before losing to Swindon Town last season: "It's amazing and an unbelievable setup here. Everyone's very friendly and I'm looking forward to getting the season off to a good start. I’ve always wanted to play in England, it’s great, a wonderful opportunity.

"I just want to be the best possible player I can be for this club. I want to grow as a person as well as a footballer. It's been magic so far (since his £1.5m move from then-South African champions Supersports United in January) and I have learnt a lot."