Why Benni’s West Ham move could be a big step in the direction
SO Benni McCarthy has finally arrived in the promised land. London, England, the capital of the world, home to the bright lights and big smoke.
After years of trying to find a job with a leading football club in the city, he finds himself at West Ham United, in east London.
It’s not Chelsea, who he so publicly courted, especially in the days when Jose Mourinho was the manager.
The Special One, of course, was the boss at Porto when McCarthy played in Portugal, so the presumption was that when Mourinho landed in London he’d take all of his old stalwarts with him.
He took a few, Ricardo Carvalho, Paolo Ferreira and Deco included, but left McCarthy behind.
McCarthy is now 32-years-old and West Ham is most certainly his last hurrah at a top club.
He won’t be fazed by the stinging send-off delivered by Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn Rovers boss, who left no one in any doubt as to what he thought of the transfer in the days before the January window closes.
On face value McCarthy’s move makes sense – he claims to want more regular game time and not be relegated to the bench, although he started four of the last seven Rovers matches – because he wants to be lean, mean and hungry when the 2010 World Cup comes along.
However, “Big Sam,” a tough-as-teak northerner, typically pulled no punches in his assessment.
He reckoned “someone had got in Benni’s ear” and that the move had nothing to do with footballing reasons, but everything with money.
The transfer itself was said to be just over the £2-million mark, which is a staggering amount for a 32-year-old striker whose attitude and fitness – both at club and international level – has often been called into question.
McCarthy has gone from a club in 11th position on the English Premiership table to one lying 16th, and only out of the drop zone on goal difference.
There are three London clubs in the top four, while Fulham are ninth which makes the Hammers comfortably the capital’s Premiership strugglers.
That’s going to heap the pressure on the Bafana Bafana striker and he’s going to find that while the manager, Gianfranco Zola, might have the outward demeanour of a laid-back jester, inside him there is a fire that rages.
Zola, it must be remembered from his distinguished Chelsea career, was one of the hardest-working, fittest players around, and as a manager he now demands that from his players.
If he is able to get McCarthy into shape – and let’s be frank, the South African has been carrying excess baggage for some time now – that can only be to Bafana Bafana’s benefit at the World Cup, because the hosts are going to need their most experienced striker to be at the peak of his powers. The London factor worries me however. McCarthy has played and lived in South Africa, Holland, Spain, Portugal and England, but there is no place quite like London. The bright lights are a magnet for the rich and famous – and McCarthy is just that.
It’s going to require huge discipline from him to stay on the straight and narrow, especially after the initial “novelty” of the move wears off.
Then there’s the small matter of trying to score the goals that help West Ham retain their Premiership status at the end of the season. McCarthy, understandably, will be delighted by the transfer, but Hammers manager Zola obviously has a big task on his hands getting the best out of the player, where many others – Sam Allardyce being the latest – have failed.