Cape Town - South Africa’s leading international goal-scorer Benni McCarthy is rightly considered the country’s most successful player to grace the shores of Europe, while the former Uefa Champions League winner firmly believes Manchester United will take the English Premier League title.
McCarthy, the new coach of PSL title contenders Cape Town City, has a vast trove of knowledge of the European scene, with successful spells at the highest echelons amid a couple of frustrating years spent picking splinters out of his Hanover Park-bred butt.
He has seen the best of times and the worst of times, and, like Charles Dickens, is an astute judge of the English character. Dickens encapsulated the barrow-world of London with vivid rawness and, if he were alive and penning today, would no doubt pick defending champions Chelsea to win the title.
According to McCarthy, the upcoming EPL season is a Tale of Two Cities, with London and Manchester the metropolises with the stranglehold on the title.
“I have played under [José] Mourinho and he is the strongest character in football today, and, apart from their recent signings, he will be the reason they [Manchester United] win this season.
“Mourinho has this aura about him and he is an out-and-out winner,” McCarthy said, clearly in awe of the manager who took him and Porto to an unlikely Champions League title in 2004.
McCarthy was the most prolific striker in Portugal that season and won the golden boot with 20 premier league goals, as he helped himself to the Special One’s dose of magic elixir.
“The second favourites to win this season will be Manchester City, while Chelsea and Liverpool will slug it out for third position,” stated McCarthy.
The former Seven Stars idol bounced around the La Liga and Porto for a couple of seasons as the fight for his signature intensified. He finally moved to Porto on a permanent deal for a then substantial £7.8 million deal.
The lucre might have been better on the continent, but the lure of the EPL was too much for McCarthy and he found his way to the home of Blackburn Rovers, former English Champions and consistent league performers. Ewood Park has seen many great strikers, none more so than Alan Shearer, and it did not take McCarthy long to endear himself to the fans.
He finished the 2006 season as the second deadliest striker in the country, eventually banging in 52 Premiership goals for the club.
McCarthy, admitting that Leicester City’s “unthinkable” league title was a fluke, believes the financial clout of the bigger teams will see a vast gap between the likes of the top six and the rest.
“You can see by the quality of players coming into the bigger teams that their domination of the EPL will only grow.
“There is a massive gap between Arsenal, who will finish in sixth position this season, and Everton, for example, who are the best of the rest,” he added, almost ruefully.
“My money is on Manchester United winning the treble this season. With their depth, quality and, of course, Mourinho, they will win every competition.”
McCarthy says their closest rival will not come from Chelsea or Spurs (first and second last season), but from Manchester City.
“The other half of Manchester have the most rounded squad in the league – and my favourite striker in the world, Sergio Agüero – and they will push United all the way.
“If Liverpool can keep hold of [Philippe] Coutinho, they will be a threat, while Tottenham have not been active enough in the transfer market,” he said.
“Arsenal are not what they were and always seem to lag behind their rivals in the purchasing of star players.”
The teams to battle relegation are undoubtedly the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town.
McCarthy adds his weight to the relegation struggle and believes the gap between the haves and have-nots is so vast that seven teams can be dragged into the scrap at the bottom.
“Newcastle have a great manager in Rafael [Benítez] and will definitely stay up, while Brighton, Huddersfield Town and Watford are likely to go down … and Crystal Palace and Burnley are also in for a tough time.”
Check out the fixtures on page 18.
Augousti is the chief international sports writer at betting site EaziBet.co.za