Chipo Sabeta Senior Reporter
FORMER Arsenal and Nigerian star Nwankwo Kanu has spoken highly of ex-Zimbabwe captain Benjani Mwaruwari who was a close friend during their playing days at English club Portsmouth. The legendary player spoke to The Herald during his two-day stay in Harare while accompanying the iconic Emirates FA Cup Trophy on its second tour of Africa.
Kanu said he enjoyed playing alongside Mwaruwari who distinguished himself as a hard worker in the tough English Premiership. I know Benjani. He was a teammate and personal friend when we played at Portsmouth. He was a hard worker and I made my name there, as a striker, because of his hard work. He was the first person I called when I was told of this event and he agreed to come with me. Outside the pitch, he is a great guy,” said Kanu.
Kanu urged African professional footballers to stay level-headed and remember their roots when they get an opportunity to ply their trade in the big leagues in Europe. The lanky Nigerian, who is now the brand ambassador for the Emirates Cup, said Africa’s footballers let themselves down once they are overwhelmed by fame and fortune and they forget about their families and culture.
“I am one player who believes in discipline and that’s why I have made it this far. A well-mannered person is likeable and respected. It’s easy to give advice to a disciplined player because you are guaranteed of positive response. However, some of our boys are easily eroded when they get to Europe. At times the huge salaries they receive per week may lead to a footballer’s destruction if not properly managed. Women can be tempting and they also come in all races. This is a crucial time to test one’s discipline. There is the integration of players in football clubs across the globe and under such social pressures, African players get carried away and they forget their families.
“Life is so fast in Europe. Players go for drinks and miss training, the next thing he is not picked in the line-up and the trend continues. It’s not wrong to drink but everything has to be done in moderation. However, bad habits begin with small things like the late coming for training sessions and that leads to disaster. And when they get the opportunity to join clubs in Europe, it’s not only the change in weather they have to grapple with. They also have to face the challenges of racism on and off the field. To succeed, they have no choice but to work hard and stay humble.” Kanu’s mastery of the game saw him succeed in Europe. My background is a good testimony to many players because it wasn’t easy. I told myself that I don’t want to go back to such poverty. Even during my career, it was a hustle. Though demoralising at times, I kept pushing towards my dream. My achievements at club and national level didn’t come on a silver platter,” Kanu said.
Zimbabwean players plying their trade in Europe include Costa Nhamoinesu, defender who currently plays in the Czech side Sparta Prague, Knowledge Musona at KV Oostende and Marvellous Nakamba, a central midfielder for Club Brugge in Belgium.
“I don’t know many Zimbabwean players in Europe but I know there are a couple of them. My advice is simple. Players must be disciplined, stay level-headed and work hard. The key to success in Europe as a professional player’s hard work. They must know that they are representing not only for Zimbabwe but Africa. Football has become a universal language and a powerful tool for uniting the world.”