Benni McCarthy: South Africa's Achilles Heel

Willie NandiCorrespondent IJune 28, 2008

He became South Africa's leading goalscorer of all time with 30 goals, eclipsing Shaun Bartlett's 29 international goals, in the 3-0 drubbing of Paraguay, but Benni McCarthy will play for South Africa on his own terms.

Despite "retiring" from international football and giving his country the runaround on several ocassions, McCarthy responded to his country's call following the appointment of Carlos Alberto Parreira. But when Parreira left South Africa in the lurch to be with his ailing wife, the replacement Joel Santana, did not command the same powers of persuasion.

McCarthy failed to report to the national team for Santana's first game in charge. Since his daughter wasn't used to his South African family, the loving father couldn't leave her with them while he played for his country.

Did I hear anyone chuckle? Seriously, who will be baby-sitting when South Africa  host the World Cup in 2010? Or will McCarthy sit out that one as well and attend to his fatherly duties?

Santana subsequently announced that McCarthy will not be part of the squad for the next four matches in the African Nations Cup qualifiers. But he will be tempted to recall him sooner rather than later.

Without McCarthy, South Africa beat Equatorial Guinea at home and lost away games to Nigeria and Sierra Leone.They also drew 0-0 with Sierra Leone at home. In all the games they failed to win, they didn't score a single goal. Clearly South Africa needs Benni McCarthy. 

But Benni will play when Benni wants to play. And if SAFA, the coach or anyone else offends him in any way, he will only play if there is an apology.

Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and other African players have achieved the same or higher levels of success, but none of them exhibit McCarthy's petulant behaviour. Benni McCarthy is a special player, so special that he plays for his national team when he wants to, if he wants to.

South Africa's place at the African Nations Cup in 2010 in Angola is already in jeopardy. The priority now must be to build a team that will save the hosts from the eminent embarrassment at the 2010 World Cup.

That team should be composed of experienced players who still know what it means to represent one's country of birth and young players who are hungry to emulate McCarthy's success.

The national coach's responsibility should be to get the most out the squad and to nurture the young talent, not to stroke a Prima Donna's ego.

Given McCarthy's attitude towards the national team, he can never be part of the team but just an individual in the team. He'll always be Benni McCarthy and then there is the South African national team, which he joins occasionally when he wants to.

Bafana Bafana, as the South African national team are known, must cut their losses and move on. The other strikers must be given a chance to gain enough experience to represent the country at the World Cup.

Even the 17 year old Kermit Erasmus (joining Feyenoord from Supersport soon) must be given a chance. It's a huge responsibility on young shoulders but it's much better than fielding a player whose heart is not in it.

What do you think? Should a country persist in calling up a player who isn't committed or is it better to rely on players who "will die" for  their country? Do you know of any other Prima Donnas?