PORTSMOUTH. — There’s the smile, that booming smile, still as infectiously uplifting as his goal-scoring prime.
Those trademark dreadlocks have dispersed, a tell-tale reminder of ripening age, but it’s unmistakably Benjani Mwaruwari.
The song, the goal celebration, record-breaking Reading, two Fratton Park hat-tricks and, of course, Wigan.
The Zimbabwean will forever be revered by the Pompey faithful.
It was more than 11-and-a-half years ago when the hard-running striker caught a flight to Manchester airport and earned Harry Redknapp a treasured after-dinner routine.
A reunion spell under Steve Cotterill should be expunged from the records, it was not the Benjani of old, his problematic right knee dictating the painful winding down of a football career.
In his glorious heyday, the £4,1m signing from Auxerre was a cherished fan favourite, a two-year presence whose talent gradually blossomed and an entry in Fratton folklore assured.
He started Pompey life as a misfiring centre-forward, failing to register in his opening 14 matches during days spared of social-media critique.
Yet, such was his outstanding work-rate and positive demeanour, Benjani earned a popular chant rather than vicious terrace denouncement as supporters stood by his side.
Then dawned the Great Escape and a DW Stadium leveller in April 2006, which opened his Blues account in timely fashion.
It set Redknapp’s side on the path to a 2-1 success which preserved Premier League status — and a new hero was born.
“While I was at Pompey, I was putting in a shift for two people. I was up front alone, I was running around, hassling players, using my strength, doing everything I could,’’ Benjani told The News.
“But the only thing not happening was for me to score. I think the fans fell in love with that, they were hoping ‘once he starts scoring he will be good because he can put in a shift.’
“When they were singing that song, you just wanted to die for the fans, to go in there and fight to get a goal.
“When things were looking better for me, at home I always knew I could get a goal with them behind me, the atmosphere at Fratton Park, oh my God!
“There would be games when you start slow, but they would push you, going onto that pitch you would be like ‘I must push myself — for them.’
“They are the best fans I came across in my career, so loud. That small pitch, when they sing it comes into your mind, that was so motivating.
“I also played for Manchester City, such great fans, but I am talking about the atmosphere, and that atmosphere when you come to Fratton Park, it’s different, I loved it. It was the best.
“The Pompey fans created that song for me, and when I moved to Manchester City, they took over it. Although, as I had scored on my debut, which came against Manchester United, the words were changed to ‘he comes from Zimbabwe, he scored on derby day.’
“It’s only here in England where they have songs like that. In France they have a different way of singing, it would be ‘Benjani’ clap, clap, clap. ‘Benjani’ clap, clap, clap.
“But here I had that song. It was amazing.’’
It seems Pompey followers might not have seen the last of Benjani donning their colours.
For his son, Benjani Junior, is on the club’s books, a promising striker attached to Shaun North’s Under-15 and Under-16 sides.
“I don’t give my son pressure, if he manages to come through, it’s all up to him.
“For me it is not about pushing him. I want him to discover and see and love the game without me pushing.
“He is a bit different to me as a player, he dribbles a lot, he scores goals. But if you want to make the most out of the game, you need to have a little bit of hard work.
“That’s what I am trying to teach him. I told him you don’t have to look at me, just play the game and make sure you’re playing it right and fight and fight every time you train and play — and the rest will follow.’’ – www.portsmouth.co.uk