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How Crusaders groomed Benni for stardom

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How Crusaders groomed Benni for stardom

by Brian Gaffney
05 Sep 2007
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

Crusaders strongly believe they've been forgotten amid the euphoria surrounding Benni McCarthy and his meteoric rise to soccer fame and fortune.

But the 70-year-old club is not bitter and vow they will never turn their backs on their revered junior goal ace of the mid-1990s.

On the eve of Benni's return to the Bafana Bafana squad for their clash with Zambia in an African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at Newlands on Sunday, 9 September, Benni's three year spell with Crusaders juniors brought back memories.

"We looked after him and, like all our juniors, we provided Benni with a meal and soup on match days," says Harold Stuurman, Crusaders' acting chairperson, of when "a mischievous little Benni" was one of the best players in the 90s.

Stuurman was at the helm when Benni, then 16, left the amateur club and joined the professional ranks with the old Seven Stars Football Club in 1995.

"We couldn't stop him from joining Stars. He was a junior and we accepted that according to the rules his parents had the final say about his future. All Crusaders received for Benni in return from Stars were two bags of soccer kit. Benni is worth millions now," says Stuurman.

The Crusaders stalwart says Benni has little contact with Crusaders, which is affiliated with the Cape District Football Association (CDFA) at the William Herbert Sportsfield in Wynberg, since he turned professional.

"He only had brief contact with some of his old team mates from the then u/12, u/14 and u/16 teams.

"But, we are proud of his achievements and he can count on our support at Newlands on Sunday."

Another Crusaders stalwart, Dougie Steer, echoes Stuurman's sentiments. Steer was the junior coach when Eddie "Bok" Adams brought the Hanover Park-born Benni to Crusaders, which draws most of its membership from the Grassy Park, Retreat and Ottery areas.

"Benni was exceptional when it came to vision, ball skills and slipping into scoring positions," says Steer.

Steer recalls that despite Benni's talents he was constantly overlooked by the CDFA junior selectors. He was not nominated for the WP trials in 1995.

"But Crusaders challenged the WP shadow side in a friendly and the provincial selectors were so impressed with Benni that they broke the rules by insisting that he should be included in the WP u/16 side."

Steer says Crusaders are thankful to Adams, who managed the Crusaders teams Benni played in, including the u/16s that tackled Hellenic in the Sanlam Junior Cup Final in 1995. Benni's hat-trick in a 5-3 defeat to Hellenic prompted the Stars scouts to make their move.

The two bags of kit were on their way to Crusaders and Benni was on the road to becoming a prolific scorer for Bafana as well as for big name clubs in Europe.

To arouse further interest to his return to the Bafana fold after a war of words with the South African Football Association (Safa), Benni scored the decisive goal in Blackburn's 1-0 win over Manchester City in the English FA Premier League on Sunday.

This follows his achievement of being the second-highest scorer in the Premier League last season. Benni's 18-goal haul for Blackburn was only bettered by Didier Drogba from Chelsea FC.

Prior to Benni's move to Blackburn he enjoyed spells with Ajax-Amsterdam, Celta Vigo in Spain and FC Porto in Portugal.

At Porto Benni's 57 goals in 129 matches was highlighted by a goal brace when the Portuguese club beat Manchester United on its way to 2004 UEFA Champions League title.

Benni and Shaun Bartlett are joint leading scorers for the national team with 28 each.

Benni has the goal-sense to become Bafana's top marksman of all time on Sunday.

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