Benni McCarthy’s outburst par for the course in this game
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JOHANNESBURG - The general reaction of outrage to Benni McCarthy’s touchline verbal jostle with Kaitano Tembo last week was typically South African, wasn’t it?
Getting our knickers in a twist over what is nothing more than an overflow of emotions in a highly competitive sport renowned for not being too kind on coaches, has become some form of pastime for us local football fans.
It is as if we ourselves don’t ever throw expletives towards the opposition team, the officials and even our own clubs when things go pear-shaped during a match.
Damn, I can bet you that many of those who called McCarthy out have had to be restrained from totally losing it when watching a football match!
Such is the nature of this beautiful game that we love so much.
The AmaZulu coach was vilified in many quarters, termed abusive, temperamental and even a spoilt brat who doesn’t have respect for the sport.
And all for what really, standing up for himself?
When McCarthy said he had lost every bit of respect he used to have for Tembo before referring to the SuperSport United coach as being broke, it wasn’t just out of malice. At least from what he said, one could deduce that Benni had been sworn at by his adversary and he felt a need to retaliate.
What should he have done? Sat on his bench and kept quiet Turned the other cheek?
Some coaches perhaps, but not Benni. I’ve been around a number of guys from the Cape Flats – even the meekest ones – to know that you don’t call them a c*** and expect them to just walk away.
Many felt he went below the belt in referring to Tembo as broke and asked how he knew that. He probably did. But all fair in war, is it not?
The reality is that when attacked, we all have our go-to defensive mode – one we believe will prove us superior to our opponents. And anyone who has followed Benni’s career would know that the man from Hanover Park is not shy to let anyone who pushes him feel that they are inferior to him when it comes to achievements.
Sure it might come across as him being pompous and lacking in humility, but he does that only when pushed – it is his defensive mechanism.
A boy from the very dangerous Cape Flats who, thanks to football, survived a life that could easily have seen him involved in the drug wars that have messed up many of his peers, McCarthy is very proud of his achievements in the game.
That success has ensured he is financially sound and he has not hidden that fact. I remember when we went to the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt back in 2006, the Safa head of delegation then, Mubarak Mohamed, no doubt working on a tight budget, rationed the players on how much they could eat on an outing.
Benni stood up and told his teammates they could eat as much as they liked and he would pay. Mohamed felt undermined, but Benni meant no harm then, just a loaded young man wanting his mates to have a good time.
There was also that incident when he was involved in a post-match scuffle with the Bidvest Wits technical team of Roger de Sa and Eric Tinkler, the then Orlando Pirates striker reminding the duo that he’d won more trophies and made more money than both of them combined. Ouch!
Benni was pushed and he felt he needed to retaliate. Big deal!
They probably laughed it all off afterwards, speaking in their common language of Portuguese.
That we heard what Benni said to Tembo the other day is because the match was live on TV and the latest top technology, that sees the broadcasters capturing just about everything on the field.
But believe me, verbal altercations such as the one that happened last Wednesday have been common place in the game for ages.
It is called gamesmanship and it happens even on the pitch where bigger swear words than the ones Benni uttered are usually exchanged.
Nearly two decades ago, I did an article on this practice of sledging – unsettling your opponent via insults – and what the players, coaches, and referees told me about what transpires during matches was such that we had to publish a pre-warning to readers about the profanities in the article. It is part of the sport.
And to get worked up about it is simply silly and often costly to your team – just ask France legend Zinedine Zidane who fell for it when Antonio Materazzi goaded him in the 2006 Fifa World Cup final.
Back when he was coach at Cape Town City, Benni gave a clear explanation of what most had seen as an altercation with Orlando Pirates’ Rhulani Mokwena during a match.
“Listen, this sport is not for the faint-hearted. It is a job where it does not depend on you, you depend on the players – so you can get fired.
“Tempers flare, emotions flare and if you see certain things don’t go according to your plan or how you structured and how you wanted it to go, you have to take it out on someone. Whoever is annoying you on the other side, that’s the best person to receive what you can’t get onto the players, because when they are playing and with the noise levels from the crowd you can shout and shout but they won’t hear you.
“Sometimes they even avoid you because they know a swear word or a threat of a beating up is coming.
“So your frustration bottles up and maybe the opposition coach says the wrong thing at the wrong time, so now I can get it all out on him because he’s just a stone’s throw away.
“But it is all gamesmanship man and at the end we shake hands.”
And then you have the fans getting their knickers in a twist when the men who’d been swearing at each other are probably out there drinking together.