“It was never my choice to leave Pompey because of the special relationship that I had with the supporters, with my team-mates and with the coach.”
Those were the words (as per the Guardian) of former Portsmouth striker Benjani Mwaruwari after he was sold to Manchester City in the remaining hours of the 2008 winter transfer window, a deal that was pushed to the final minutes after the striker missed two flights to Manchester after he fell asleep at the airport, but Premier League officials allowed the move to happen despite how late everything took place.
The deal was a shock to Pompey fans, as Benjani was a real fan favourite at Fratton Park.
Signed from Auxerre for a then club-record fee of £4.1 million in January 2006 after Arsene Wenger recommended the striker to Harry Redknapp, the Zimbabwe attacker didn’t get to the best of starts of life in the Premier League.
It took 14 games for the then 27-year-old to score his first goal for the club, but nevertheless, Benjani quickly became a supporter’s favourite at Portsmouth. His work rate and willingness to help his teammates warmed fans to fans, but on paper and to neutrals, the striker looked like a total dud of a signing.
That was until his final five months with the club in the 2007/08 season, where the striker finally found his scoring boots. From August to the end of January, Benjani scored 12 goals in the league, including a hat-trick in the famous 7-4 win against Reading and another one against newly promoted Derby County.
His impressive form is what led to Sven-Goran Eriksson shelling out £8 million for Benjani on transfer deadline day in dramatic fashion, a deal that was so last minute that it wasn’t even confirmed until the 5th of February.
His time in the North West was not a prosperous one, though, Injuries caught up with Benjani, and the striker joined City in the midst of their financial takeover that has made the Manchester club the football powerhouse they are today, and two years and 31 appearances later, the Zimbabwe international was one the move again.
A year in Blackburn was followed by a move back to Portsmouth, who were now in the Championship, as a free-agent at age 33, where Benjani failed to really make an impact, scoring once in 18 league appearances.
Benjani will be remembered at Portsmouth as the player who loved the club and didn’t want to leave even when City came in for him, and it proved to be a move that would finish his career.
Portsmouth fans, what is your favourite memory of Benjani? Let us know!