Despite barely speaking a word of French, Auxerre’s new Zimbabwean striker Benjamin Mwaruwari has had no trouble communicating this season, making himself understood in the language of goals.
Stepping in for Auxerre’s brilliant but injured young front man Djibril Cisse at the start of the season, Mwaruwari, or Benjani as he is now commonly known in France, proved a more than adequate replacement.
His pace, muscle and technical ability alarmed many an opposing defence, while seven goals in his first seven League games for Auxerre – most struck with his venomous right foot – showed why he had been nicknamed ‘The Gravedigger’ during a prolific two-year spell at South Africa’s Jomo Cosmos.
“When I arrived at Auxerre, I knew they had a lot of good players and that it would be very difficult to play regularly,” says the 24-year-old.
“But things have just taken off. I think I was successful because no one knew me. I also know that when Djibril Cisse is fit again I will be back on the bench.”
He ought not to bet on it. Although Auxerre coach Guy Roux has employed a 4-5-1 system for the past two seasons, with Cisse as the lone spearhead, the emergence of Benjani may well prompt a permanent switch to a two-man strikeforce.
Certainly, the duo combined well during the second half of Auxerre’s home Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund, with Cisse leading the line and half-time substitute Benjani operating slightly deeper. Indeed, it was the latter who scored the only goal, rifling in a low drive.
It’s just as well that Roux is more flexible thanhe used to be. The word is he was not quite convinced by Benjani during a trial period last summer, but was pushed to take him on by a number of his first-teamers.
“In training we immediately saw that Benjani had something special,” said central defender Jean-Alain Boumsong.
Mwaruwari’s first European club were Grasshopper, whom he joined on a one-year loan from Jomo Cosmos shortly after being voted South Africa’s Player of the Year for 2001. However, he was a virtual spectator for much of the 2001-02 Swiss League campaign.
“My problem was that the coach who brought me in (Hans-Peter Zaugg) was quickly sacked, and his successor (Marcel Koller) never had any confidence in me,” says Benjani.
But former Grasshopper technical director Erwin Zogg was so sure of Benjani he became his agent and persuaded Roux to give him a trial. “I know I must improve in all areas of my game,” says Benjani. “But I’m sure I’m at the right club to become a better player.”
Club Auxerre (Fra)
Born August 13, 1978, in Harare
Previous clubs Lulu Rovers, Air Zimbabwe Jets, Jomo Cosmos (SAf), Grasshopper (Swi)
International debut July 1998, v Malawi
International caps 20 (7 goals)
Honours Cosafa Castle Cup 2000