Cats new boy Benjani relishes challenge

BENJANI has promised he is fit and ready to make up for lost time after his two years of frustration at Manchester City.

Benjani Mwaruwari

BENJANI has promised he is fit and ready to make up for lost time after his two years of frustration at Manchester City.

The only two full games the Zimbabwe captain has played this season were in the FA Cup, although he scored the winner in the first of them against Middlesbrough.

Other than that, injury and City’s embarrassment of riches restricted him to three substitute appearances and a Premier League start.

However, Benjani is adamant he is over the thigh problem which saw him go 13 months without kicking off a league game until last month.

He said: "I am ready to play. I have been injured for a long time but I recovered well. I did not have a chance to play (at) Manchester City. Here, hopefully I will be given the time to play."

His inactivity at Eastlands – where the 31-year-old started just 21 league games in two years – was Benjani’s main motivation in leaving five months before his contract expired.

He added: "Now I have a chance to play regularly. The season for them (City) is okay, but not so much for me. It was not okay because I have not been playing. As a player you need to play."

For a while on Monday it looked as if the striker might not get his wish. For each of the last three years, deals have been completed outside of the January transfer window and in two of them, Benjani’s moves have been the reason.

The deals which saw him join City from Portsmouth to fund Jermain Defoe’s move to the south coast from Tottenham Hotspur were the big controversy of the January 2008 window.

Pompey were unable to file the relevant paperwork because of the Zimbabwean’s late arrival in Manchester. Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie explained the striker missed two planes by "falling asleep at the airport".

The transfer was completed five days late after the Premier League was satisfied the documentation had been completed in time.

Two years later, history repeated itself to a degree – although this time the striker was blameless.

Benjani was on Wearside 48 hours before the deadline for a medical, only to be left sweating by the Black Cats.

Again the paperwork for his £1.5m switch did not reach Premier League headquarters in time, but Sunderland proved "technical" difficulties with their fax and email systems were to blame.

To Sunderland’s relief the move was rubber-stamped on Tuesday, the day after this year’s deadline.

Benjani said: "I came for a medical on Saturday, then on Sunday nothing happened. The papers finally came through late on Monday."

With fellow strikers David Healy and Daryl Murphy joining Ipswich Town on loan until the end of the season on Monday, the late addition will be needed at the Stadium of Light.

Summer signing Fraizer Campbell is yet to score in the league for the Wearsiders and Steve Bruce desperately needs someone to put pressure on his first-choice pairing of Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones.

Benjani added: "If you sign for a club they expect you to come and provide something they don’t have.

"They (Bent and Jones) are good players. Any player would love to play alongside good players."

With the Academy of Light pitches frozen, Benjani and his fellow deadline- day arrival Alan Hutton trained at the Stadium of Light for the first time yesterday.

Fans will have a chance to meet the pair – and fellow new boy Matthew Kilgallon – in signing sessions at the official club stores the week after next.

Hutton and Kilgallon will be at Debenhams in the Bridges on February 16 from 4-5pm, while Benjani will be at the Stadium of Light shop at the same time the next day.

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