The time has come once more readers for the incessant talk of transfer deadline day signings to come to a close. Sky Sports will have to devote its energies into hyping ‘Super Sundays’ and the football section in papers will now focus on the matches. In an English transfer window that saw clubs pass the £1 billion mark, it seems that money talks.
In our final instalment of this series, we’ll examine a transfer deadline day signing that showed that money isn’t always the answer. No it’s not the Fernando Torres/Andy Carroll deal. No it’s not the Robinho deal and no it’s not the Wayne Rooney deal. What is it then? It’s Benjani Mwaruwari’s £7.6 million move from Portsmouth to Manchester City in 2008 of course.
An odd choice? Perhaps, but a fun one nonetheless. For today’s tale tells the story of an unhappy relationship in which neither the player nor the club wanted the transfer to go through. Today’s tale tells the story of a player who almost scuppered the transfer due to falling asleep twice and missing the plane to Manchester. Finally, today’s tale tells the story of a player who openly admitted to moving only for the money shortly after arriving at his new club. Interested now? You should be!
As we are all aware, unless we have actively avoided Sky Sports for the past 24-36 hours, transfer deadline day is that time of year when reporters spend most of the day camped outside the gates of the Premier League clubs’ training grounds waiting for any sign of movement.
It’s that time of year when Harry Redknapp comes into his own and it’s the time of year which Jim White savours. For reporters, it’s one part determination, one part stalking at the best of times. Such was the case on 31 January 2008 when reporters flocked outside Fratton Park and the Etihad Stadium, as a potential move by Manchester City for Portsmouth striker Benjani appeared likely.
This was during the first era of City wealth, when a Thai business tycoon named Thaksin Shinawatra was funding the Sky Blues. Sven-Goran Eriksson was brought in as manager and a new squad was had been assembled. Alas success on the field was not immediate and City had began the new year in lacklustre fashion, having managed just one win since the turn of the year.
Goals were needed. Regular first-choice striker Rolando Bianchi had been sold and Darius Vassell, the fastest man in England, was being played on the left wing. Sven wanted to strengthen his squad, especially up front. Benjani was the answer.
It was a lucky time for the Zimbabwean man. The 2007-08 Premier League campaign was proving to be his most fruitful in England, with Benjani having notched twelve goals for Portsmouth by January. He appeared to be the perfect solution to City’s woes.
Was Benjani City’s first choice? Possibly not. Prior to the Benjani deal, reports were circulating that other potential deals for strikers had fallen through. Yet as the last hours of the transfer window ticked by, City became desperate.
City’s desperation was to Portsmouth’s advantage as a fee was hastily agreed for the Zimbabwe international in the afternoon. Benjani made his way to Southampton airport and people on both sides waited for the deal to pass through. What happened next confused and confounded fans of both clubs.
Benjani fell asleep. Tired from the day’s proceedings, Benjani pulled a sleeping beauty and slept through two flights to Manchester. When our man was finally awoken, presumably to irate phone calls, he was thrown onto a plane to Manchester. He didn’t arrive in Manchester until after 11pm, it had been a long snooze.
Unfortunately while Benjani was asleep, the situation had changed. City were trying to renege on the deal. Citing a long-standing knee injury, City attempted to cancel the deal. Not to lose out on the money, Portsmouth soon challenged City. Famously Portmouth’s fitness coach went public saying that there was no issue whatsoever with Benjani’s fitness.
City backed down. Looking for another way out City then argued the deal had not gone through before the midnight deadline and hence the deal was a failure. Benjani would return to Portsmouth and City could keep their money.
City had avoided paying, or so it seemed. Alas for fans of the Sky Blues, the Premier League intervened, and not to City’s advantage. Four days after City had attempted to pull out of the deal, the Premier League confirmed they had in fact received all the necessary paperwork for the deal. The move was completed against the wishes of City.
Man City signed a player seemingly against their own will. Worse yet for City fans, soon after signing for Man City, Benjani went public with his dislike for his new employers. In an interview with the Mirror prior to his début for the club, Benjani told readers:
“It was tough to leave Portsmouth and I was late leaving my home for Manchester because I kept asking myself all day whether this was all true. I kept telling myself it was all a bad dream and I would wake up the following day and still be a Pompey player. But this was not a dream.”
So joining Man City was like a bad dream. Not what fans of the club would want to hear. Benjani was even more forthright about why he joined the club:
“When I looked at the contract they were offering, I couldn’t believe it and I just signed there and then. It’s the best deal, in terms of remuneration, in my entire career and I was just happy with the respect I had received from City so I signed after a few minutes.”
Benjani had doubled his wages to £30,000-a-week at Man City and to be fair at least he was honest about his motivations.
Would such a match last? It appeared to be a match in which, neither the player nor the club wanted one another. Oddly at first that it was a match made in heaven. Benjani’s début for City saw him score in a 2-1 over Manchester United. A vital win in terms of bragging rights and Premier League points.
Sadly however, injuries soon restricted Benjani’s appearances. City’s fears over his fitness had proven right. Over the next two years, Benjani would play only 22 more games and score three more goals for City. Incidentally, Benjani’s second season at City would see the club gain even richer owners and bring in the likes of Robinho, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor among others.
Stronger reinforcements effectively ended Benjani’s chances at City. In 2010, he left the club when his contract expired. And so ended the Man City career of a player who didn’t want to be there, and a club that didn’t want him anyway.
Moral of the story? Money isn’t always the root of happiness.
And so we put aside our interest in the Transfer Window for a few months. Our weekly series has often examined the lighter side of the football transfer market, showing us that no matter how much money is in football, it’s still a bizarre old thing at the end of the day. It’s been a pleasure writing this series and I hope you’ve had as much fun reading as I’ve had writing.
Post-transfer window blues? We have the perfect solution here at Pundit Arena. Cult footballers! Yes join us next week when we begin looking at the greatest Cult footballers of England’s top clubs. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll smile. Stick around.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.