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I Rubbed Money In The Face Of Racist Hate

Arguably the most prolific footballing export from Africa, Benni McCarthy has had his fair share of success, criticism and vilification. In the game for 16 years and counting, McCarthy has returned home to play for top team Orlando Pirates in return for enough money to buy a house in Johannesburg every month.

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When meeting Benni McCarthy for the first time, it is hard not to size him up. Firstly, he is larger than life and says what is on his mind. Secondly, his size has been open to cruel national debate.

Benni McCarthy’s weight has been the staple of comedians, talk shows and Monday morning office gossip along the lines of Benni in a cafeteria rather than the 18-yard area.

“I am now finding it easy to stay in shape,” he says. “The weight issue really came up when I was living and playing in Europe and experimenting with all kinds of food that was new to me. Most of it clearly didn’t agree with my metabolic system, which resulted in me packing on the pounds, but now I know what works and that is how I’m keeping the excess weight off,” he continues.

By now it has become clear that McCarthy lives his life as an open book. I had expected the weight question to go down like a triple cheeseburger—which it didn’t, and next he was taking us on a tour of his Parkwood mansion and making jokes about his current team’s coach and ruminating about his future.

“I think that I am fitting in well at Orlando Pirates. For me, coming back home was not necessarily because I had no other options—it was mostly for the purpose of giving back to the community that made me the international star that I became,” he says of his 14-year spell in international soccer.

“I am finding the level of discipline with the players to be of a lower quality here than at the clubs in Europe, though, and most times you find that a lot of players aren’t as dedicated or as excited to be on the field representing the country’s biggest teams. But the pace of the game and all the other technical elements are up there with the best worldwide,” he says.

McCarthy is the only South African football player to ever win the UEFA Champion’s League. His former team, FC Porto, won in 2004, thanks to his 20 goals in 23 matches, plus a golden hat-trick in the final. McCarthy had a strange career at Porto. He scored in 11 matches for FC Porto in 2002 and left them only because the club could no longer afford him. They bought him back for €8 million ($10.5 million) a year later and McCarthy went on to win the UEFA Golden Boot.

Besides his uncanny ability to find the back of the net, McCarthy’s list of achievements would make even the most jaded critic realize that he is the real deal. He was the first soccer player in the world to feature on the cover of TIME magazine; he still holds the record of international goals by a South African and is Bafana Bafana’s all-time top scorer with 31 goals for his country.

McCarthy’s time spent in Europe wasn’t all roses. As he reminisces, he tells a chilling tale of rabid racism among Spanish supporters.

“For quite a while, my skin color became the bane of my existence. There were times when some fans would throw banana peels onto the stadium as I went in, and I still remember very vividly how they used to also make monkey sounds when I walked onto the pitch,” says McCarthy.

After enduring the hatred for months, McCarthy came up with a technique to block out all the hatred.

“Whenever I would encounter racism off the field, I would always take out a wad of cash and either burn it or tear it up right in front of the perpetrators. That was my way of rubbing it into their faces: you hate me, yet you still come to my games, effectively making me richer,” McCarthy quips.

McCarthy does have money to burn. His home drips with it.

“Growing up in Hanover Park in the Cape Flats of Cape Town, I never knew that it was possible that I could achieve so much, and make the kind of money that I made just by kicking a ball around. I know what it is to be poor, and the fact that I do not want to return to that has made me very wise in the way I handle my finances,” explains McCarthy.

“There are too many stories about ex-footballers going back home and becoming dead broke. I understand the reason behind why that happens: you go overseas as a teenager, get access to more money than you ever thought possible in a very short time and it gets to your head. It also becomes very hard to resist the lure of the football star’s lifestyle, which famously entails hard partying, bling and lots of beautiful women with expensive tastes. Add to that the bad friends that surround you and the fact that there isn’t much financial education that was given to you before you found yourself in that position,” he says.

McCarthy maintains that his family, which consists of his mother, three daughters, a steady girlfriend from Scotland and a baby on the way, have kept him focused on making financial decisions that will ensure that everyone gets to keep the lifestyle that he has worked for.

“I have six properties in Europe, a couple of houses in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and I am in the process of starting a business as a property developer—focusing on building luxury apartments for the growing middle class,” he says.

The Maserati and Bentley parked in the front drive shows McCarthy isn’t always parsimonious.

“You know how it is with us guys and how we love our toys… I do admit that I have a serious weakness for sports cars, and I am a keen collector of top-of-the-range watches… so basically, I collect houses, sports cars and Rolexes,” he gushes.

If the rumor that he earns around R500,000 ($64,000) a month at Orlando Pirates is true, then McCarthy doesn’t have much to worry about.

“I hope to play for one or two more seasons, then retire from football for good. I have been very fortunate in that my career hasn’t been marred by injury or anything that I can’t handle, so I look forward to one day being on the level of my all-time icon, Jomo Sono,” he says.

Benni McCarthy may have come a long way from his roots in the Cape Flats, but he has not forgotten his roots or the ball artistry of one of his illustrious predecessors. Legend has it that Jomo Sono left his wedding reception to take the field for Pirates, who were losing, to score goals for victory. Surely, McCarthy would have done the same.

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Grass Gets Greener For Young South African Golfing Wonder

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Seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala already has the golfing world at his feet.


South African golf legend Gary Player believes the country has the potential to produce the next Tiger Woods, a superstar with charisma and global appeal that will win major titles and become a role model to millions around the world.

Player told FORBES AFRICA late last year he was “convinced there is a black girl or boy in South Africa today with tremendous athletic prowess, and with the talent to be a champion”.

Player’s prophecy could come true sooner than, perhaps even, he expects, with the emergence of seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala, a youngster that has shown such outstanding talent on the golf course that the world has sat up to take notice.

READ MORE | Grass Is Greener In Soweto For Golf Legend Gary Player

Tshabalala, who learned the game from YouTube videos and has only been professionally coached for the last few years, has already played at the Australian Open, where he came fourth, has played in Malaysia and Scotland, and won the local US Kids Tour this year.

He will soon be jetting off to the United States, England and Canada for more events in the coming month, fueling his passion to one day emulate, and then surpass, his hero.

“It’s going very well, it’s very exciting for me,” Tshabalala tells FORBES AFRICA. “I really look up to Tiger Woods, he was number one in the world for so long.

Seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala. Picture Supplied

“He won so many tournaments and, just like me, he started playing at such a young age. He carried that through to his adult life and became a legend.”

The way Tshabalala talks; he is seven going on 17, such is the maturity with which he answers questions.

Clearly, an exceptionally talented, and level-headed child, he has the golfing world at his feet.

His father, Bonginkosi Tshabalala, admits his son’s success has taken him rather by surprise, but he is determined to make sure all avenues are open for the youngster.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019: Messi, Ronaldo And Neymar Dominate The Sporting World

“I grew up with an absent father, with no male guidance or exposure to many things, so it’s very important for me to be able to provide this platform for Sim. I want him to have a better life than me,” Tshabalala senior says.

The young Sim tried just about every sport going, but none stuck until he picked up a golf club.

“From the age of two, we have tried all sports – tennis, swimming, cricket, soccer and finally golf,” his father says.

“I must admit I did not even know what a golf course looked like.

Seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala holds the South African flag up high. Picture: Supplied

“I had no clue about the rules of the game, but I thought I had to teach myself first, then I could pass that on to Sim.

“So I bought some clubs, and the two of us would sit and watch YouTube videos with coaching tips and the like, trying to learn the game.

“We had been going to the driving range together and he was really enjoying it, so I decided to get him formal coaching.”

But Tshabalala senior, who is also his son’s caddy, says it is not enough and they put in hours and hours of practice together each week.

“If you give him a fork to eat with, he will use it to practise his swing. The first thing he does in the morning when he gets out of bed is practice his swing. He is amazingly committed to the game.”

Seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala on the gold course. Picture: Supplied

Such is his promise that ‘Sim Tiger’ has already secured a sponsorship from top global golf equipment manufacturer, TaylorMade, but for the rest, his increasingly expensive career is being funded by his father.

“We will be at the World Championships in North Carolina from August 1 to 3. Then we travel to England for the British Kids Championship on August 8 and 9, and from there, we play the 2019 Canadian Invitational on August 12 to 13.

“It is obviously very expensive, and we are looking for sponsorship, but at the same time, it is an amazing experience.

“When we went to Malaysia, it was the first time, I had never been outside of South Africa, so we have grown together as a family.”

READ MORE | World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make

For Tshabalala senior, this journey is much more than golf and travel, it is a chance for him to spend time with his son, perhaps healing some of those old wounds that linger from his father not providing him with the same support.

“Whatever happens in the future, it has brought us closer, and hopefully, he has learned some life lessons along the way,” he says.

Seven-year-old Simthandile ‘Sim Tiger’ Tshabalala. Picture: Supplied

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The World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019

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The Dallas Cowboys kick off training camp this weekend as the defending NFC East champions. Last season ended with a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, which marked 23 straight years the Cowboys were shut out of the NFC Championship game. Only the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions have longer title-game droughts.

But America’s Team remains the biggest must-see show in sports. Nine of the 50 highest-rated sports TV broadcasts in 2018 were regular season Cowboys games, helping goose ratings for CBS, NBC and Fox (the Patriots were the only other team with more than four games among the top 50).

Cowboys fever helps owner Jerry Jones generate an estimated $340 million in sponsorship and premium seating revenue at AT&T Stadium, twice as much as any other team.

While Jones’ team has come up short on the field the past 20-plus years, the Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports franchise for the fourth-straight year at $5 billion. Jones has capitalized on the insatiable appetite for all things Cowboys.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019: Messi, Ronaldo And Neymar Dominate The Sporting World

“On and off the field, in season and out of season, there is a small soap opera going on every day,” Jones told my colleague Mike Ozanian last fall during a taping of ForbesSportsMoney on the YES Network. “Everyone knows that marketing, especially in this day and time, is just another way to promote the circus, so to speak.”

Jones has always been a visionary since he bought the Cowboys for $150 million 30 years ago. He revolutionized stadium sponsorships; broke away from the NFL’s shared merchandise revenue system; launched a stadium-management firm, Legends Hospitality, with the New York Yankees; and opened a $1.5 billion practice facility in 2017.

The New England Patriots' Tom Brady
The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady MADDIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES

The result: Dallas sits atop the globe’s richest sports league with profits, in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, of $365 million in 2017, a record for any sports team.

The cutoff to rank among the world’s 50 most valuable sports teams is $2.075 billion, up $125 million from last year and $1.2 billion from five years ago. The values of sports teams have skyrocketed on the backs of ballooning media rights deals and more owner-friendly collective bargaining agreements that restrain player costs. There are 52 teams across all sports worth at least $2 billion, up from one, Manchester United, in 2012.

The NFL is still the most dominant sports league when it comes to the worth of its franchises. More than half of the top 50 are football squads. Credit the monster media-rights deals with the likes of CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and DirecTV that paid out more than $260 million per team last year. The TV haul is a nice cushion to easily cover teams’ biggest expense item, player costs, before any tickets, sponsorships, beer or replica jerseys are sold. The cap on player salaries was $177 million last season (each team is also on the hook for $40 million annually in player benefit costs).

READ MORE | Simidele Adeagbo: What I Learned From The Most Terrifying Winter Olympics Sport

The New York Yankees moved up three spots to just behind the Cowboys with a value of $4.6 billion, up 15%. The Bronx Bombers head seven MLB teams that made the top 50. The Yankees are surging on and off the field. They own the best record in the American League this season, after posting 100 wins last year. Attendance at Yankee Stadium jumped 10% last year to 3.5 million fans, the highest for the club since 2012. Viewership of Yankees games on the YES Network was 57% higher than any other baseball franchise in 2018.

Real Madrid ranks third at $4.2 billion and highest among the eight soccer clubs in the top 50. The La Liga club was the last sports team deemed the world’s most valuable before the Cowboys secured the title starting in 2016. Real banked more than $100 million for winning its second-straight Champions League crown last year.

Don’t look for Real Madrid to set any records with regard to the richest sports team sale, currently $2.3 billion for the sales of the Carolina Panthers in 2018 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. Real is owned by its more than 90,000 members, who elect a club president. It’s a similar structure at rival Barcelona, which ranks fourth overall with a value of $4.02 billion.

The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen CurryGREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

NBA teams have made the most dramatic moves this decade. The New York Knicks headline nine hoops teams in the top 50 this year. Their $4 billion value, up 11%, ranks fifth among all sports teams. The Los Angeles Lakers ($3.7 billion) and Golden State Warriors ($3.5 billion) also cracked the top 10. In 2012, the Lakers were the most valuable NBA team at $900 million and ranked 35th out of all sports franchises. The Knicks were the only other NBA team in the top 50 in 2012.

Three NBA franchises have been sold for at least $2 billion since 2014 (Nets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers). The prior NBA-record sale price was $550 million for the Milwaukee Bucks, which closed three months before Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion blockbuster purchase of the Clippers.

READ MORE | The 10 Most Notable New Billionaires Of 2019

Investors salivate at the NBA’s international prospects, with 300 million basketball players in China and annual revenue growing outside the U.S. at a rate in the high teens. The 2016 CBA locked in player costs at 50% of the league’s surging revenue, and league-wide profits are up tenfold over the past seven years by Forbes’ count.

The world’s richest sports teams are almost all swimming in cash these days. Barcelona, which lost $37 million due to excessive player costs, was the only top-50 team to post a loss on an operating basis, and every other team turned a profit of at least $25 million. More than half of the teams made more than $100 million, led by the Cowboys at $365 million.

The franchise values below are based on Forbes’ published valuations over the past 12 months. Team values reflect enterprise values (equity plus debt). No teams from the NHL, Nascar, MLS or Formula One made the top 50. The highest-ranking franchise outside of the NBA, NFL, MLB and European soccer was the New York Rangers at 72nd with a value of $1.55 billion.

Gridiron Rules

The NFL remains the most dominant sports leagues with more than half of the 50 most valuable sports franchises, but the other major sports chipped away at its dominance during the past year.

More Than a Game

The discount bin is empty when shopping for teams in the major sports leagues. Every NFL, NBA and MLB franchise is now worth at least $1 billion.

Candlestick Chart
Trophy Assets

Manchester United was the world’s only pro sports team worth more than $2 billion in 2012. Now there are at least 50, including almost every NFL team.

Pictograph 1
The World's 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams
RICH SCHULTZ/GETTY IMAGES, ADAM GLANZMAN/MLB VIA GETTY IMAGES, BOB LEVEY/GETTY IMAGES

50 New Orleans Saints (NFL)

  • Value: $2.08 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Gayle Benson
  • Operating Income*: $115 million

49 | Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)

  • Value: $2.08 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Shahid Khan
  • Operating Income: $63 million

47 (tie) | Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)

  • Value: $2.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Lamar Hunt Family
  • Operating Income: $60 million

47 (tie) | St. Louis Cardinals (MLB)

  • Value: $2.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 11%
  • Owner: William DeWitt Jr.
  • Operating Income: $65 million

46 | Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

  • Value: $2.15 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Wiliam Bidwill
  • Operating Income: $74 million

45 | Liverpool (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.18 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: John Henry, Tom Werner
  • Operating Income: $128 million

44 | Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)

  • Value: $2.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owner: Steve Ballmer
  • Operating Income: $40 million

43 | Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

  • Value: $2.25 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 18%
  • Owner: Mark Cuban
  • Operating Income: $99 million

42 | Arsenal (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.27 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 1%
  • Owner: Stanley Kroenke
  • Operating Income: $102 million

41 | Los Angeles Chargers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.28 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Spanos Family
  • Operating Income: $48 million

38 (tie) | New York Mets (MLB)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 10%
  • Owners: Fred & Jeff Wilpon, Saul Katz
  • Operating Income: $30 million

38 (tie) | Carolina Panthers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: David Tepper
  • Operating Income: $62 million

38 (tie)| Houston Rockets (NBA)

  • Value: $2.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Tilman Fertitta
  • Operating Income: $103 million

37 | Brooklyn Nets (NBA)

  • Value: $2.35 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: Mikhail Prokhorov, Joe Tsai
  • Operating Income: $53 million

36 | Indianapolis Colts (NFL)

  • Value: $2.38 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: James Irsay
  • Operating Income: $67 million

35 | Minnesota Vikings (NFL)

  • Value: $2.4 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Zygmunt Wilf
  • Operating Income: $90 million

34 | Oakland Raiders (NFL)

  • Value: $2.42 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owner: Mark Davis
  • Operating Income: $25 million

33 | Miami Dolphins (NFL)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Stephen Ross
  • Operating Income: $56 million

32 | Chelsea (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 25%
  • Owner: Roman Abramovich
  • Operating Income: $127 million

31 | Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

  • Value: $2.58 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 6%
  • Owners: Pat Allen Trust
  • Operating Income: $71 million

30 | Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.59 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owners: Daniel Rooney Trust, Art Rooney II
  • Operating Income: $85 million

29 | Baltimore Ravens (NFL)

  • Value: $2.59 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Stephen Bisciotti
  • Operating Income: $107 million

28 | Atlanta Falcons (NFL)

  • Value: $2.6 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Arthur Blank
  • Operating Income: $113 million

27 | Green Bay Packers (NFL)

  • Value: $2.63 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 3%
  • Owners: shareholder-owned
  • Operating Income: $62 million

26 | Denver Broncos (NFL)

  • Value: $2.65 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: Pat Bowlen Trust
  • Operating Income: $106 million

25 | Manchester City (Soccer)

  • Value: $2.69 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 9%
  • Owner: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Operating Income: $168 million

24 | Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)

  • Value: $2.75 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owners: Jeffrey Lurie
  • Operating Income: $114 million

22 (tie)| Boston Celtics (NBA)

  • Value: $2.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: Wycliffe & Irving Grousbeck, Robert Epstein, Stephen Pagliuca
  • Operating Income: $100 million

22 (tie)| Houston Texans (NFL)

  • Value: $2.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Robert McNair
  • Operating Income: $161 million

21 | New York Jets (NFL)

  • Value: $2.85 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Robert Wood Johnson IV
  • Operating Income: $130 million

19 (tie) | Chicago Bears (NFL)

  • Value: $2.9 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 2%
  • Owners: McCaskey family
  • Operating Income: $100 million

19 (tie) | Chicago Bulls (NBA)

  • Value: $2.9 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf
  • Operating Income: $115 million

18 | San Francisco Giants (MLB)

  • Value: $3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 5%
  • Owner: Charles Johnson
  • Operating Income: $84 million

17 | Bayern Munich (Soccer)

  • Value: $3.02 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -1%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: $129 million

16 | San Francisco 49ers (NFL)

  • Value: $3.05 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: Denise DeBartolo York, John York
  • Operating Income: $106 million

14 (tie) | Chicago Cubs (MLB)

  • Value: $3.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 7%
  • Owners: Ricketts family
  • Operating Income: $87 million

14 (tie) | Washington Redskins (NFL)

  • Value: $3.1 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owner: Daniel Snyder
  • Operating Income: $122 million

12 (tie) | Los Angeles Rams (NFL)

  • Value: $3.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 7%
  • Owner: Stanley Kroenke
  • Operating Income: $68 million

12 (tie) | Boston Red Sox (MLB)

  • Value: $3.2 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 14%
  • Owners: John Henry, Thomas Werner
  • Operating Income: $84 million

10 (tie) | Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

  • Value: $3.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 10%
  • Owners: Guggenheim Baseball Management
  • Operating Income: $95 million

10 (tie) | New York Giants (NFL)

  • Value: $3.3 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 0%
  • Owners: John Mara, Steven Tisch
  • Operating Income: $149 million

9 | Golden State Warriors (NBA)

  • Value: $3.5 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 13%
  • Owners: Joe Lacob, Peter Guber
  • Operating Income: $103 million

| Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)

  • Value: $3.7 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 12%
  • Owners: Jerry Buss Family Trusts, Philip Anschutz
  • Operating Income: $147 million

7 | New England Patriots (NFL)

  • Value: $3.8 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 3%
  • Owner: Robert Kraft
  • Operating Income: $235 million

| Manchester United (Soccer)

  • Value: $3.81 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -8%
  • Owners: Glazer family
  • Operating Income: $238 million

5 | New York Knicks (NBA)

  • Value: $4 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 11%
  • Owner: Madison Square Garden Company
  • Operating Income: $155 million

| Barcelona (Soccer)

  • Value: $4.02 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: -1%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: –$37 million

| Real Madrid (Soccer)

  • Value: $4.24 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owners: Club members
  • Operating Income: $112 million

| New York Yankees (MLB)

  • Value: $4.6 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 15%
  • Owners: Steinbrenner family
  • Operating Income: $30 million

| Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

  • Value: $5 billion
  • 1-Year % Change: 4%
  • Owner: Jerry Jones
  • Operating Income: $365 million

Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen

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Football, Beer And Selfies With Thierry Henry

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French football legend Thierry Henry was in South Africa to watch the 2019 UEFA Champions League final on television screens with dizzy fans. 


A teaser campaign on Heineken South Africa’s Twitter page unveiling the identity of a legendary footballer kicks off the 2019 season of the UEFA Champions League.

It certainly piques the attention of South African fans on social media who tentatively await the unmasking of this legend – French footballer Thierry Henry. 

Even as fans attempt to piece the mysterious mosaic, the Champions League 100 club member is already making his way from Europe to watch the much-anticipated UEFA Champions League tournament final on June 1, on a giant television screen with his South African fans, at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit race track in Johannesburg.

South Africa’s vibrant football culture finds expression in all venues, from the dusty make-shift fields that continue to play a crucial role in community life in townships, to the manicured green pitches of gargantuan stadiums.

As Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC take to the field for the final leg in Spain, here in Johannesburg, all eyes are on Henry, who can barely focus with all the attention on him. But these are interactions the former FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC striker would not trade for anything else – even watching the match in the comfort of his own home.

“It is always nice to have these moments with South African fans. Usually, I would be at home watching the game, but now, I am in South Africa. It is a bit surreal to watch the Champions League that happens in Europe, in Africa,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. 

Watching the all-English final on South African soil evoked nostalgia, and Henry reminisces the beginning of an illustrious career in football. 

“I went to Monaco [to play] as a youngster; that was the choice. I didn’t know we were going to make the Champions League. I was just trying to be a football player,” he says.

 Henry then moved to Arsenal, and then Barcelona where he ended up winning the Champions League.

The bulk of the retired footballer’s career as a player was in the English Premier League for Arsenal FC that saw him as Arsenal’s all-time top scorer, with 228 goals, for the club.

“The moves were based on competing, trying to get the best out of myself and get the best out of my teammates,” he says.

Despite a two-nil loss on Henry’s first professional appearance for Monaco in 1994, first impressions should make a lasting impact, he says. 

“For me, it is always the first game, it is very important because you are now on the scene and you need to make sure that everybody can see what you are about in that particular moment. I remember losing the first game but I had an impact and the rest is history.”

On June 1, Liverpool FC was crowned champions in the 64th season of the premier football tournament.

The win for the English team meant more beer, selfies and snapshots with Henry for the few lucky South African soccer fans, and again, the rest is history. 

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