Archive for February, 2013

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.”

Benjani in action for his previous club, Portsmouth

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.

One Knill To Torquay

League Two strugglers Torquay United yesterday announced the appointment of Alan Knill as the club’s interim manager until the end of the season. Knill will work with assistant manager Shaun Taylor, who had taken over the first-team reigns following normal boss Martin Ling’s illness which has kept him out of action since late January. Knill, a former Wales international, now has fourteen games to save Torquay from the relegation battle that they have slipped into in Ling’s absence.

Since hanging up his playing boots in 2001, Knill has managed Rotherham United, Bury and Scunthorpe United, enjoying most of his managerial success to date at Bury. The 48-year-old’s first foray into management came in January 2005 as caretaker boss of Rotherham, and despite only leading the side to two victories in his 11 games in charge, Knill was given the job permanently in December of that year. Knill was slightly more successful during his permanent spell at Millmoor, recording a win rate of 28.13%. However, was sacked by Rotherham in March 2007 after a dire run of 14 games without a win, and it took him just under a year to find another job, as manager of League Two side Bury.

Knill has a tough job on his hands at Torquay

Knill’s stay at Gigg Lane was vastly more successful, and after saving the club from relegation to the Conference after his appointment in February 2o08, he led the club to a fourth-placed finish in his 2008-09, his first full season in charge, only missing out on automatic promotion by one goal. The 2009-10 campaign followed a similar pattern until February, when a disastrous run of form saw The Shakers drop out of the promotion race and end the season in mid-table. Towards the end of 2010-11 Knill left for Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United; shortly afterwards Bury finally secured promotion to League One, with new manager Richie Barker building on the foundations that Knill had laid.

Knill could have been forgiven for soon questioning his decision to leave a Bury side on the up – his first game in charge of Scunthorpe was a 6-0 loss to Norwich – and with only eight games remaining, he was unable to prevent the second tier’s bottom club from relegation to League One. His first full season in charge culminated in a disappointing bottom-half finish, and on 29 October 2012 the club lost patience with Knill and sacked him. Two months earlier he had been lucky to escape without serious injuries after a cycling accident caused by a squirrel; his subsequent comment that “the situation we [Scunthorpe] are in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations” possibly led the board to believe he was not the man for another relegation battle.

However, that is exactly what Knill finds himself in now after joining Torquay, who are currently five points clear of the drop zone, having lost their last five games under makeshift boss Taylor. It’s a far cry from last season, in which Ling’s side rallied after Christmas to push for automatic promotion, only missing out on the final day of the season. Knill will inherit a squad low on confidence, and with his first game against rampant league leaders Port Vale, he will do well to avoid a repeat of his first game at the helm at Scunthorpe.

It appears that Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at fellow strugglers Aldershot Town was the final straw for United chairman Simon Baker, who had revealed Taylor had previously turned down his offer of a coach to provide assistance. One Torquay fan even claims that when asked during the defeat to Aldershot if Taylor knew “what he was doing”, Baker replied “I don’t think so, no”!

Shaun Taylor has been shown to be out of his depth in Ling’s absence

The chairman yesterday revealed that Knill’s appointment came on the back of recommendations from his former colleagues: “Alan was suggested to us by some people in the football industry,” said Baker. “We had drawn up a shortlist and we checked up on Alan with people he had worked with, and they all gave him a glowing reference.” Baker also hinted that Knill’s contacts and “good relationship[s] with Manchester United and Everton” could lead to an influx of loan players to aid Torquay’s fight for survival.

With the new man having attended the Aldershot game in order to run the rule over the club’s players, Torquay fans will be hoping Knill recognises the need to move creative midfielder Nathan Craig – too often wasted on the right-hand side, despite being left-footed – into the middle of the park, and to make more use of recent loan signing Elliot Benyon, who has been borrowed from Southend United. Despite being brought in by Taylor to score the goals needed to convert 1-0 losses into draws and victories, Benyon has played just 55 minutes, all from the bench, in the three games he has been available. Supporters will also have been encouraged by Knill’s reputation as a fan of passing football, developed at Bury – too often this season United have resorted to playing aimless long balls in the vague direction of targetman Rene Howe.

Torquay remain in the dark about the extent of Ling’s illness – although Baker vaguely revealed that the manager is “making progress”, it is still unclear whether or not he will be able to take over the reigns from Knill at the end of the season.

Calf injury rules out Logan deal

Former Exeter City striker Richard Logan has revealed that he will not be joining Torquay United after sustaining an untimely calf injury while on trial at the League Two strugglers.  Torquay manager Martin Ling had taken Logan on loan on 24 January as part of his search for back-up for top-scorer Rene Howe, but the hunt for a new striker has become even more pressing this week following Howe’s two-match suspension for reaching 10 yellow cards in the 2-1 defeat to Cheltenham Town on Saturday.

Beginning his career as a trainee with Ipswich Town in 1998, Logan was loaned to Torquay during the 2001-02 season, netting four times in 16 league games. More loan spells throughout the Football League followed until Logan settled down first with Peterborough United and then Exeter; his five-year stay with the Grecians included scoring against local rivals United in the 2007-08 Conference play-offs, and bagging the goal that sealed Exeter’s promotion to League One a year later.

In happier days: Logan has missed out on a contract with Torquay through injury

However, any nostalgia between club and player was lost when Exeter released Logan and several of his team-mates following their relegation to the fourth tier in 2011-12. A move to League Two rivals Wycombe Wanderers quickly followed, but the forward lasted just 10 scoreless games before he was on the move again. Equally brief stop-gap spells with non-league Dorchester and Bury Town took Logan up to the January transfer window, and the 31-year-old used his contacts at United – including goalkeeper Martin Rice, a former team-mate at Exeter – to negotiate a trial at Plainmoor with a view to a permanent move.

Ling suggested that Logan could be the perfect fit for the Gulls, who were looking for a cheap striking reinforcement to replace Howe in the event of injury or suspension to the club’s sole targetman; he told BBC Sport, “[Logan] is now available and we’re just having a little look to see what he brings…He is a player out there doing nothing at the moment. He is 31 and had an effect with Exeter last year.”

Although the January transfer window slammed shut without any new arrivals at Plainmoor, Ling remained keen to bolster his threadbare strikeforce, which currently contains just three forwards:  Howe, Ryan Jarvis and rookie pro Ashley Yeoman. A combination of Ling’s illness – he has missed Torquay’s last two games against Exeter and Cheltenham through a virus, and will not be on the sidelines for Saturday’s fixture against Fleetwood – and the club’s location hampered a possible signing: earlier this week chairman Simon Baker revealed, “We  were actually rebuffed on our first enquiry this week because the player in question is not keen on relocating to the south-west.”

Benyon (left) could be in with a chance of returning to Plainmoor on loan

The forward Baker refers to has since been speculated to be Bournemouth frontman Jayden Stockley, who chose a loan to Conference outfit Woking over a trip to Devon. That decision seemed to open the door once more to Logan, who could have provided a like-for-like replacement for Howe in the home games against Fleetwood and Rotherham. However, with a one-month contract seemingly on the table, Logan was forced to limp out of training on two occasions this week due to a calf injury, which also ruled him out of Tuesday’s reserve fixture at Plymouth Argyle. The striker confirmed his injury on his Twitter account, adding that he was “gutted” to be missing out on the one-month “prove yourself” deal.

Logan now fully expects Torquay to sign another striker on loan in his place; local newspaper the Herald Express believes that the club have shortlisted ex-Bristol City forward John Akinde and out-of-favour Southend attacker Elliot Benyon as possible transfer targets. Akinde was released by Crawley Town this week, having scored just once in 40 games in two years at the League One club. Benyon, 25, is well-known to Torquay fans having spent four years at Plainmoor, averaging a goal every three games. His impressive work-rate and form warranted a move to Swindon Town in January 2011, but was soon loaned to Wycombe before joining Southend in last year’s winter transfer window. However, Benyon has made just 11 appearances in over a year at the Roots Hall club, and is likely to be open to loan offers having fallen behind the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Gavin Tomlin, Freddy Eastwood and Barry Corr in manager Paul Sturrock’s pecking order of strikers.