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Benni McCarthy on his love for Jose Mourinho

Benni McCarthy was already an established star in South African football by the time of the 2000 Olympics.

He had burst onto the scene at Seven Stars, moved to Ajax Amsterdam, and did enough there to earn a big-money transfer to Celta Vigo.

However, it wasn’t until his exploits at FC Porto that he truly became a household name. Having initially been sent to Portugal on loan, McCarthy scored on debut for his new club, but he was fearing the worst when manager Octavio Machado was sacked shortly afterwards.

But what he initially feared turned into a major blessing as Jose Mourinho took charge and led Porto to the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League title, with the striker scoring many crucial goals along the way.

In an interview with The Athletic, McCarthy recalls his first meeting with the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’, and the subsequent success that followed as a result.

“I arrived at Porto in 2001 in a bad state. I scored on my debut and we won, but then the manager was sacked. I couldn’t believe that the man who took me there got fired.

“[But] this young guy replaced him and said: ‘Benni, I know of you and I have watched you. I think you are a fantastic player and I want you to be my guy’.

“Then Jose Mourinho proceeded to tell me all about me. He knew everything; he’d watched my games at Celta. How did he have this information? Jose told me that I could always speak to him, even if it was to get something off my chest. I started crying, really. I thought ‘Wow!’ This had not happened to me in Europe.

“He was treating me like a son and I thought, ‘I cannot disappoint this guy, he has given me the lifeline that I want’. I wanted to run through a brick wall for him.”

Mourinho left for Chelsea soon after the Champions League success and tried to get McCarthy at Stamford Bridge on a few occasions, to no avail.

“I scored goals against Manchester United in the Champions League and when Mourinho went to Chelsea they came for me, but Porto would not sell.

“[Later] I was playing in England [for Blackburn Rovers] for the first time and scoring a lot - 24 goals in my first season. Then Chelsea came knocking on the door again. Mourinho wanted me. He’s always wanted me.

“I asked Blackburn if they could sell me. I wanted to play Champions League again, to play for Mourinho as he ruffled more feathers in the Premier League. Blackburn said no, which I understand.

“I tried to force the move but it wasn’t enough. My mental state began to suffer, my football began to suffer.”

McCarthy had an unsuccessful spell at West Ham United under Gianfranco Zola before winding down his career back home with Orlando Pirates.


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