Tumo Mokone

Set Benni free

2007-12-07 13:41

Tumo Mokone

Benni McCarthy and Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune dominated local soccer news in the past week. For McCarthy it was his exclusion from the Bafana Bafana team going to Ghana in January for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, while Khune was simply the best in the Telkom Knockout final on Saturday.

The two players represent the fading past and the exciting future about the local game. It was a surprise indeed that McCarthy didn't make the squad, more so that in his quest to lure him to national team, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira once described Benni as "the messiah". However, the striker's absence is not a shock at all, given his poor showing in his four-match comeback.

Speculation is rife though, that Parreira omitted McCarthy from the Afcon squad in accordance to the deal he struck with Blackburn manager Mark Hughes. The deal, apparently, is that Parreira would have the Cape-born striker in his team for certain international matches, excluding the Afcon tournament.

I believe McCarthy is also happy to stay away, because playing for Bafana these days simply makes him look bad. He struggled in the last Afcon in Egypt as South African returned home without having scored a single goal in all its three first round matches.

To his credit, he scored SA's only goal in his first match since Parreira's era, when SA lost 3-1 to Zambia in September in Cape Town. But after that his contribution in the next three matches was forgettable.

Desire to retire

On a personal level, it was sad to see the man in that shape and form because in his heyday Benni gave SA football so much joy. I still remember vividly the four goals he scored against Namibia in Burkina Faso in 1998, the quotes and the charm he had ahead of the France Soccer World Cup. He even recorded a song with TKZee, which dominate parties and broke sales records.

Those were the good days of Bafana and Benni, and in all fairness the man has long indicated his desire to retire from the national team and finish off his playing days in club football. It was because of a lack of goalscoring talent in this country that made SA football continue calling on McCarthy, who has not lost his scoring touch at club level.

I think the SA Football Association must now heed Benni's request to retire, and organise a series of benefit matches for him and other greats of his era. Local football must make a clean break with the past, if it hopes to achieve anything in the future. And that's why the likes of Itumeleng Khune and Excellent Walaza must step in now.

There is a lot in common about Khune and Walaza, the Orlando Pirates striker. They are both 20, and are the only uncapped players Parreira named in his Afcon squad. Both have done well for in the national youth teams' - Under-20 and Under-23. To cap it all Walaza, the current PSL leading scorer with seven goals from seven matches, replaces McCarthy in the senior team.

Contract overseas

Khune is riding high as a goalkeeper, after he was named player of the tournament in the Telkom Knockout. So the future must look bright for the new-look youthful Bafana. However the reality facing the team is that it must acquire plenty of experience, starting next month after Ghana.

After the Africa tournament the players must seek contracts overseas, because that will be the only thing that will keep them in the competitive edge with the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and the entire west and north Africa.

Meanwhile, this week Orlando Pirates management once again demonstrated why the club is so hopeless in keeping its coaches. In October the Buccaneers fired Mutombo and hired one of rising South African coaches, Owen da Gama. The team is once again playing exciting football and winning.

Football supporters across the board are happy with Da Gama's tactics, but not the Pirates management. On Wednesday the club announced that they have signed former Zimbabwe international Gilbert Mushangazhike, and the following day a sad Da Gama revealed that he also read about it the media.

That's how Pirates respect their coaches. Past coaches have said there are elements which are hell-bent on making their work difficult. In simple terms, Pirates coaches are being set up for failure from within. Small wonder the club with so much money and resources is not achieving anything.

  • Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

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