Premier League Career: Portsmouth (2006-2008), Manchester City (2008-2009), Sunderland (2010), Blackburn Rovers (2010-2011)
Benjani became only the third Zimbabwean player after Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu to play in the Premier League. He played for four clubs in the top-flight between 2006 and 2011, though it was his spell at Portsmouth for which he will forever be associated with.
Benjani began his career playing in South African football before moving to Europe in 2001, joining Swiss outfit Grasshoppers Zurich on-loan. A year later, he moved to a talented Auxerre side and made the most of an injury to Djibril Cisse, settling down and scoring goals quickly for Guy Roux’s side. He scored seven times in his debut season and experienced UEFA Champions League football for the first time. 11 goals followed in the 2004-2005 campaign but when Jacques Santini succeeded Roux as manager, he tweaked the formation and Benjani was made surplus to requirements.
Marseille expressed an interest to sign him but Benjani liked English football and went to Portsmouth instead. The south coast club paid a club-record fee of £4.1 million to sign him in January 2006. Harry Redknapp made the purchase after receiving a recommendation from Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.
Benjani was instantly ridiculed by pundits for his lack of goals but the fans loved him at Fratton Park, impressing with his high work-rate and setting up chances for his teammates. It took him 15 games before he found the back of the net for Pompey but it was a crucial goal in a 2-1 victory away at Wigan Athletic, helping Portsmouth to avoid relegation from the top-flight.
His best season undoubtedly was in 2007-2008. In the encounter against Reading in September 2007, Benjani scored a hat-trick in a thrilling 7-4 victory for Portsmouth which remains the highest scoring match in Premier League history. In January 2008, he scored another treble as Pompey came from behind to defeat Derby County 3-1. That took his tally to 12 goals for the season, surpassing his target of 10 that he’d personally set. However, it would be the last goal of his first spell at the club.
Sven-Goran Eriksson was interested in signing the player and on transfer deadline day, Portsmouth accepted an £8 million bid from Manchester City. Benjani was reluctant to leave but Pompey had already agreed to sign Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur and planned to finalise the transfer by selling Benjani. Despite missing two flights to Manchester for a planned medical, the move did eventually go through.
He made a great debut, scoring a header to win the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford for his new club. He added further goals against his former club Portsmouth and Fulham. However, Eriksson left in the summer of 2008 and along with injuries and added competition from the likes of Robinho and Craig Bellamy, Benjani’s amount of game time became seriously limited.
He was allowed to leave in the summer of 2009 but failed to agree personal terms over a transfer to Hull City. He remained at Eastlands until a loan move to Sunderland in February 2010 which didn’t materialise into a permanent switch. Released by Manchester City in summer 2010, Benjani joined Blackburn Rovers in August 2010. He did score twice in a 3-1 victory over Liverpool FC in January 2011 but although Blackburn were interested in keeping him beyond 2010-2011, he turned a new contract down and made an emotional return to Portsmouth, who were now playing in the Championship.
However, he couldn’t replicate his form from his previous spell at Portsmouth and was released after just a year. He finished his playing career in 2014 after a spell back in South African football.