South African Premier Soccer League strugglers Chippa United this week confirmed the signing of ex-Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari as the top flight’s bottom club attempt to avoid relegation back to the second tier. Benjani had been without a club since being released by debt-ridden Portsmouth at the end of the 2011-12 season.
The move represents Benjani’s return to Africa at club level, having left the continent in 2001 to join Swiss side Grasshoppers on loan from his first senior club, Jomo Cosmos. The Zimbabwean almost made the switch back to the PSL earlier this season when he agreed to join SuperSport United in October 2012 following a successful trial, but the deal bizarrely broke down three weeks later; Benjani denied that his reported £60,000-a-week wages had been a stumbling block (as SuperSport manager Gavin Hunt had suggested) but instead mysteriously revealed, “Maybe I didn’t sign for a reason I don’t know.”
However, having stated his desire “end my career on a high in South Africa”, Benjani continued to search for a move to the PSL, and earlier this month he began training with Chippa’s fellow strugglers Ajax Cape Town, even playing for the club in a friendly two days before Chippa swooped. Ajax may come to rue their hesitation: they sit just one point above the automatic relegation slot – currently occupied by Chippa – and need all the help they can get to pull clear.
Chippa’s decision to offer Benjani one last payday appears to be borne out of desperation to survive in their first-ever season in the South African top flight. The Chilli Boyz were only founded in July 2010, and an immediate return to the second division could see them struggle to re-gain promotion with bigger clubs such as Jomo Cosmos, Vasco Da Gama, Thanda Royal Zulu and Santos all currently battling in the second tier.
Having scored just 17 goals from their 19 league games this season, Chippa assistant manager Humphrey Sithole admitted the decision to sign Benjani was made in order to boost their firepower: “Benjani is a highly experienced striker; we have no doubt that he will help us a great deal in scoring goals, which is one department where we are still lacking.” The Zimbabwe international will provide much-needed competition among Chippa’s mis-firing strikers. The club have veteran Welcome Qalanto to thank for 7 of their goals, and their second-highest scorer is Petrus Ngebo, who has found the net just twice. Chippa had previously been reserving a foreign space in their squad for Niger captain Moussa Maazou, but abandoned all hopes of that transfer and chose Benjani instead when Maazou became embroiled in contract disputes with his current club Etoile du Sahel.
Benjani becomes the second former Premier League star to move to the PSL this season following ex-Blackburn defender Aaron Mokoena’s switch to Bidvest Wits, while one-time Portsmouth targetman Collins Mbesuma’s transferred to Mamelodi Sundowns in 2008, and Benni McCarthy, formerly of West Ham United, joined the Pirates in 2011.