BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
ZIMBABWE football icon Benjani Mwaruwari has hailed former side Portsmouth’s fans for helping him through a difficult patch at the club after going for 14 matches without a goal following a switch from the then French top-flight league club Auxerre in January 2016.
Mwaruwari was recruited by the Pompey coach Harry Redknapp for £4, 1 million to deliver the goals that would help the struggling club avoid relegation.
But the Zimbabwean popularly known as Benjani fired blanks in his first 14 starts at the club and would finish the season with just one goal in 16 matches as Portsmouth successfully staged the Great Escape.
The following two seasons Benjani became a revered figure for his goal-scoring prowess at the club, which earned him a big-money move to Manchester City in January 2014 when he was one of the leading scorers in the league.
He remains grateful to the fans, who believed in him during a difficult period and has opened up on his experience at the former Premier League club in an in-depth interview on the official Portsmouth FC YouTube channel.
“That’s why it’s always a special place when I come back here.
“The fact that they accepted me when I didn’t score, but through my working hard we became very close with the fans,” the 43-year-old told Portsmouth TV last week.
“Every time when I was playing here that song they were singing before games was motivating me and even if I didn’t score I could work hard.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all.
“You know sometimes when the fans are behind you, you don’t feel any pressure you can only feel it when the fans are not behind and they are booing you,” he said.
“Once he starts scoring he will be good because he can put in a shift!” the Portsmouth fans’ song for the Zimbabwean would echo right around Fratton Park.
And true to the words of the song Mwaruwari started scoring.
His first goal for Pompey came in his 15th match when the team came from a goal down to snatch a comeback 2 – 1 win over Wigan that ensured safety for the club with a game to spare.
“(Finally scoring) At Wigan that was a relief you know, but to me I was always comfortable because the fans were cheering me.
“At that moment I didn’t have that great feeling because we were a goal down and that was the equaliser.
“We needed a win, so in my mind I was like let’s go back and get another goal and we did get another goal and we won the game. At the end of the game, it was tricky to remember Birmingham also wanted to win and they were playing Newcastle. We wanted them to draw or lose and by that time they were still playing,” Benjani recalled his first goal for Portsmouth.
On September 29, 2007, Benjani scored a hat trick in a historic 7 – 4 win over Reading at Fratton Park and the match still holds the record as the highest-scoring game in the history of the Premier League.
In that same season, Benjani enjoyed a purple patch in the league, which saw him score 12 goals in 23 appearances for Portsmouth before making a midseason move to Manchester City.
Benjani regards his time at Portsmouth as the best moment of his career while he feels he was not prepared for the Manchester City switch.
“It was one of the best though I started slowly, but at the end as you know the transfer to Man City came in January I wasn’t prepared and I was scoring for fun and I believe if I didn’t go to Man City at the time I would have scored more goals for Pompey.
The former Zimbabwe international also took the opportunity to shed more light on what transpired during his move to Manchester City where coach Redknapp alleges that he had to shove the striker out of the door because he didn’t want to go.
It was also reported that Benjani deliberately missed two flights to Manchester City to express his disinterest.
Interestingly he revealed that he thought the move was just but a bluff or at best, a test for his loyalty to Portsmouth.
“At that time that deal came late and I thought they were just testing me whether I loved it here or not because remember we played Manchester United and the next day it was the (transfer) deadline day.
“So if it was meant before that time I was supposed to stay in Manchester, but then we flew back and the next morning I was supposed to be in Manchester again. I thought they were testing me that’s why I said I wanted to stay,” revealed Benjani.
Benjani scored on debut at Manchester City helping the team win at city rivals Manchester United for the first time in 36 years.
However, the striker would play just 23 premier league matches for Manchester City in two years scoring just four goals.
Mwaruwari returned for a second spell under Steve Cotterill in August 2010, before bidding farewell to Fratton Park for good at the season’s end.