Thursday, 7 July 2011

No way to treat a legend

Anyone who watched the Confederations Cup in 2009 will remember the name Matthew Booth. You know, 'the only white bloke in the Bafana Bafana team' and all that?

Well, just over two years on from his rapid ascent to fame that saw some Spanish journalists erroneously report that South African fans were booing his every touch (of course, it was simply the locals playing homage to an icon by shouting his name - 'Boooooooooooth!'), he finds himself out of work.

A few weeks ago, Mamelodi Sundowns informed the now 34-year-old that his contract would not be renewed next season and he is now left with the prospect of recovering from a serious injury without the support of a club.  Booth played his last match for Sundowns back in February, when he was ruled out for at least six months with a very serious knee injury.

At the time, his club were in the running for the PSL title but their subsequent failure under caretaker coach Ian Gorowa - incidentally the sixth boss since Booth returned from seven years in Russia in 2009 - saw the man from Fish Hoek near Cape Town shown to the exit door. A five-minute meeting with CEO Kenneth Makhanya was all he was afforded and, with almost two months of his rehab still to run, Booth's agent is now trying to secure him a deal elsewhere.

That's not an easy prospect when he still can't kick a ball in anger quite yet, but the man who is still fluent - if a little rusty-  in Russian, remains hopeful something will be resolved soon. Nonetheless, a week spent on the dole is quite a contrast from December 2009, when Booth shared a stage with David Beckham et al at the 2010 World Cup draw.

In the six months before and after that night, the towering figure with the distinctive bald head and mixed-race children (thanks to his marriage to former beauty queen Sonia Bonneventia) became an icon for the 'new South Africa' as they prepared to welcome the world. The English tabloids even christened them 'SA's Posh and Becks', although Booth would certanly have swapped all the adulation for a minute of action on the pitch last June.

Unfortunately for him, Bongani Khumalo's emergence alongside captain Aaron Mokoena meant he had to watch on in frustration from the bench as Bafana Bafana bowed out in the group stages. Despite the setback, he had made a good start to the new season alongside future star Siyanda Xulu but the annual managerial crisis that erupted at Sundowns at the turn of the year was the beginning of the end.

For those who don't know, 'The Brazilians' (as they are known for their blue and yellow kits that pay homage to the Selecao) are owned by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe - who just happens to think he could also be a football manager. A series of coaches including Henri Michel and Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov have tried and failed to bring glory to the club amid tales of massive interference from above.

With Antonio Lopez Habas sacked in January and Gorowa filling in temporarily, the decison to allow Booth to leave was therefore taken by the club's director of football Trott Moloto. Yet a few weeks later, Johan Neeskens was announced as the team's new head coach, presumably way before Moloto had informed the veteran he was surplus to requirements?

It all seems a very harsh way to treat someone who has enjoyed two spells at the club, including three championship-winning seasons at the turn of the century. No football clubs owe anyone a living but a bit of compassion goes a long way.

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