Stubbs reminds me of Mourinho – Benni McCarthy

Benni McCarthy is enjoying helping out as a coach at Hibs. Pic: Paul Devlin
Benni McCarthy is enjoying helping out as a coach at Hibs. Pic: Paul Devlin
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At first glance, any comparison just looks ridiculous. Jose Mourinho picked up the 22nd trophy as Chelsea clinched the English Premier League at the weekend, while Alan Stubbs, a rookie manager, has, as he would be the first to admit, achieved nothing yet.

However, former Champions League winner Benni McCarthy sees many striking similarities between the Hibs head coach and the young Mourinho he encountered when he joined Portuguese club Porto at a time when his own career was at its lowest ebb,

McCarthy, who was to go on and become South Africa’s leading striker with 32 goals in 80 internationals, made his way to Europe via Ajax Cape Town, a feeder club for the Dutch outfit, winning the Eredevisie in his first year before being sold to Spanish side Celta Vigo, only for the move to turn sour.

He said: “I was in at the deep end. I was 20 and couldn’t speak the language so it was difficult, a tough time. But I was thrown a lifeline when I went on loan to Porto and met this young coach Jose Mourinho.”

McCarthy’s loan deal was made permanent, the striker thriving in his new environment, winning the Champions League with him scoring two goals against Manchester United as they were defeated in the second round, a renaissance he puts down to the influence of Mourinho, then aged just 39.

He said: “At a football club the manager is the manager and the players are the players, but Jose would come in, sit me down and ask me how I was, how was the family. That was a bit weird in the football world because usually managers don’t want to know your personal life.

“But he was in the players’ personal lives in a good way. He got to know players at a personal level and I think that was very impressive. You respond because there is a closer bond, he knows a bit about your lifestyle and you know a bit about his. He understands when you are having a bad day or a little moment when life is tough, he knows how to handle you and that’s fundamental.

“He was there when you needed somebody to put a hand on your shoulder and he would do that all the time. That way you go the extra mile for him.”

Now coaching on a part-time voluntary basis at Hibs’ East Mains training centre as he aims to take his own step into coaching and management, 37-year-old McCarthy reveals he’s detected the same traits in Stubbs. “Definitely,” he said, “Alan has an amazing relationship with his players. I see a lot of similarities. Even the way he speaks with the players. There’s a respect, he’s the manager and they are the players – but there is also that friendship.

“You know he’s a go-to guy if you have a problem. I have never seen any of the players shy away from him. They will go to him when their paths cross in the corridor and can say ‘gaffer this is wrong, that’s wrong’.

“I think for him that can only be a great thing because there are not a lot of managers in the game still today who have that with their players.”

McCarthy, naturally, concedes that in terms of success there’s a world of difference between “The Special One” and Stubbs, but having arrived in Edinburgh a year ago – his wife Stacey is from the Capital – he appreciates just what the former Celtic and Everton defender has done so far.

The ex-Blackburn Rovers, said: “I came here when Hibs had ten games to get the three points they needed under Terry Butcher. It’s been tough times, but Alan has turned it around incredibly, so you have to give him credit for what he has done. I think he’s going in the right way, he’s on the right path to achieving one day, maybe.”

Having encountered Stubbs during his days in England, it was to his former opponent he turned when seeking help in starting out on his own path to coaching despite having had “the living daylights kicked out of me”.

McCarthy said: “My agent also knew Alan because he had Steven Peinaar at Everton, so their paths crossed quite a lot so I asked if it was okay to come and observe, to see how he does things because obviously playing is completely different and he was kind enough to say okay.

“Alan was a tough guy to play against – he used to kick the living daylights out of me. I’d come out bruised from him and his defensive partner at Everton, Joseph Yobo.

“It was a good rivalry, but you stay friendly and once the game is finished you shake hands and have a chat. Alan’s reaction to losing a goal was that of a typical defender, he hated it. He’s a John Terry-like, a leader who wants to win every single ball.

“It’s good to have that mentality and now it’s interesting to see him in his first year as a manager having come into the club at a low point.”

From the banter which goes back and forth between McCarthy and the players who pass as we talk within East Mains, he’s been embraced as one of the team, even if a few of the younger ones aren’t quite aware of a career which encompassed 15 major honours on either side of the Atlantic, the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup.

He said: “It is such an enjoyment when you come into a house and everybody is so warm and welcoming. I’ve go to know the players as the days have gone by. I think the older ones maybe know a little bit about me given my playing time. I share a few laughs with them so we understand each other on a professional level.”

Given his own playing career and the contacts he’ll have made throughout Europe and beyond, some eyebrows may be raised at McCarthy working at what, for the time being at least, is a Championship club – but he was having none of it.

He said: “In my time at Ajax I knew about Scottish football, Rangers, Celtic and Hibs and that they have a huge history. Maybe just now they are down in a lower division, but they are still a massive club.

“It looks as if I am going to be in Edinburgh permanently because my wife is around her family. I love the city – it’s nice, clean and friendly. It’s just the weather I’m having to deal with, but other than that, everything about Edinburgh is nice, very beautiful.

“I’m loving it here and I would not mind as time goes by to start becoming a part of the furniture. At the moment I am just volunteering, coming in, educating myself.

“Alan and his coaching staff are very intelligent so I go around gathering every bit of knowledge I can to educate myself because I now a lot of things from my playing days, how players feel so I add that to my coaching style, how to treat players, how players want to be treated.”