ELEVEN years after starting his Manchester City adventure, with a headed winning goal at Old Trafford, Benjani Mwaruwari turned back the hands of time at the Etihad on Wednesday night. His late header against a Premier League All Stars side dominated by former United players, turned him into the toast of the Etihad.
And, just as he did in his debut match for City in a 2-1 win over the Red Devils at Old Trafford on February, 10, 2008, the former Warriors skipper delivered the unique Benjani celebration.
He pointed to the crowd three times before moving his arm across his body in a flashback to his time at the club.
That his late goal came against a Premier League All Stars side which started with eight former Manchester United stars, including many who were booed during the match, to help the Manchester City Legend force a 2-2 draw in Vincent Kompany’s testimonial match, delighted thousands of fans at the Etihad.
And, that he beat Liverpool legend, Jamie Carragher, to a cross from Dutchman Nigel de Jong, to plant his header beyond the goalkeeper for the equaliser, delighted the fans given the Reds have become City’s biggest threat to silverware in English football today.
With 51 602 fans turning up for the Belgian’s testimonial, and nine former Manchester United stars in the starting line-up of the opposing team – Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Michael Carrick, Andy Cole, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Robin van Persie – this contest had more than just a friendly touch to it.
“I’m glad to have the United players here, we can’t do this properly without the red side being involved,” Kompany said. ‘You can’t have a successful project without Manchester United involved, We have our differences – that is clear.
“Even though I am presently playing in a different country, Manchester will always be special for me.’’
Benjani started on the bench with City manager, Pep Guardiola, starting with Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Julian Lescott, De Jong, Samir Nasri, David Silva, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Sylvian Petrov and Sergio Aguero in his team of Manchester City Legends.
He was introduced for Wright-Phillips in the 71st minute and, with just a minute left on the clock, he climbed higher than Carragher to meet a ball swung into the area by De Jong and direct it beyond substitute goalkeeper Shay Given, sending the Etihad into delirium.
Petrov had given the City Legends the lead in the second minute but goals from Keane, and a trademark strike by Van Persie, before half time, turned the match on its head to give the Premier League Legends the lead which they held on to until a minute before the end.
Then, Dutchman De Jong, swung in a ball into the area from a free-kick and Benjani timed his run and jump to perfection, directing the ball into the bottom corner, to the delight of the fans, Guardiola and Kompany who didn’t play in his testimonial because of injury.
Then, the moment the City fans were probably waiting for all night, came – with Benjani racing to the stands to deliver his trademark celebration while his teammates, led by Micah Richards, raced in to mob him in the celebrations that followed.
‘‘Man City’s Benjani hailed by fans for celebration in Vincent Kompany testimonial,’’ screamed British tabloid, Daily Star, in its headline yesterday.
‘‘The former City man scored a late equaliser and used his famous move, leaving fans in tears.’’
The newspaper also captured comments from the City fans and noted that the video of the 41-year-old’s celebration was viewed by more than 50 000 people within minutes of being put on line.
“That was a throwback,” one said, “If you’re a real fan, you know,” another commented while a third said, ‘’tears in my eyes. Premier League legend.’’
Another fan could only say, ‘‘that Benjani celebration brought back serious feelings.’’
The official Manchester City Twitter page screamed, ‘‘GOAL! HE DID THE CELEBRATION!’’
And, Britain’s biggest selling daily newspaper, The Sun, described him as the hero of the night. ‘‘Zimbabwe striker Benjani was the hero for Kompany and City, the veteran outjumping ex-Liverpool defender and now Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher to head a late equaliser,’’ The Sun said in their report.
Benjani spent three seasons at Manchester City, after arriving from Portsmouth on February 5, 2008, on a £3.87 million two-and-a-half-year deal, worth £50,000 a week.
The transfer fee was set to rise to £7.6 million in the event he made 75 senior starts for the Citizens. However, injuries limited him to 31 appearances and seven goals for City.
He became an immediate favourite with the City fans, after scoring what proved to be the winner in the 2-1 victory over United at Old Trafford, in his debut match for the Citizens.