Benjani: A Player Transformed

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 25 October 2007
"Can't hit a barn door with a banjo, can't score in a brothel, like an African Emile Heskey." Those were just a minor few of the cliches used to describe Benjani Mwaruwari at the start of his Pompey career.

22 months later and he finds himself at the top of the Premier League goalscoring chart, a feat which has surprised everyone. It's been quite a transformation for the man from Zimbabwe.

I remember his unveiling after arriving from Auxerre as our record signing at the time. In the press conference he was asked what he hoped to do at Portsmouth he simply said "to score goals".

His debut came during a 1-0 home defeat to Everton when he didn't impress at all. I remember thinking that substitute Emmanuel Olisadebe would have a bigger impact on the team as Benjani buggered off to play in the African Nations Cup.

If memory serves me correctly, he couldn't find the net for his country either and missed a couple of embarrassing sitters. Things didn't get better when he came back to Pompey, as lack of confidence saw him continue to miss easy chances and the boo boys began to ironically cheer when he won a header and called for Toddy to start in his place.

It continued this way until the game at Craven Cottage when things began to turn round. He played a big part in creating the first two goals and just didn't stop chasing things and I believe it was this game that our fans started to get behind him as well as invent the now classic "Benjani, Whooooaaooooh!" chant.

Then, the moment came when he finally did score today, as he put the ball in the Wigan net from all of two yards as Pompey completed their great escape from relegation.

With a full pre-season behind him, Benjani looked like a much more accomplished Premiership player during last campaign. He may have only got six goals, but his general all-round game had improved as he assisted other goals, brought other players into the game and defended from the front.

In fact, Benjani's defensive qualities are very under-rated. If there's a free kick to be defended, he'll block it. If players are running down the wing, he'll put his foot in and get the ball out of play. Tony Adams has put a huge emphasis on defending from the front and it seems that Benjani is a vital part of that plan.

It wasn't 'til April when we started to see Benjani add a new dimension to his game; intelligence. Now I'm not suggesting that Benjani is braindead, but his "fox-in-the-box" goal against Newcastle and his opportune goal against Liverpool showed the fans a new side to his game.

This season he's continued to develop his positional sense, his finishing and his general threat by taking defenders out of the game (just watch his run for Glen Johnson's goal). The new system has seen him flourish and with his endeavour to add to his quality, we could see the Zimbabwean find the net many more times yet this season.

There's something about Portsmouth Football Club that seems to transform careers. Sol Campbell has been revitalised, Linvoy has written a book about his transformation whilst we all know how Kanu has performed since his stay at Fratton Park.

If there's a lesson to be learnt here then it can be learnt by David Nugent. Out of favour following a big money move, it's up to him to grab any opportunity he gets and prove his worth to Harry like Linvoy has done before him.

Portsmouth Match Reports


Trending on the boards