After staging a successful inaugural farewell match last Saturday, that featured international stars such as El Hadji Diouf of Senegal, Nwanko Kanu of Nigeria and Lucas Radebe of South Africa among others, Benjani found himself at the deep-end of dirty politics between the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa), organisers of the event and some soccer fans.
It is understandable everyone wanted a piece of this memorable event, but we should have respected Benjani’s views on this occasion because it was his.
Unfortunately some of the people who were involved in the proceedings,Benjani’s team in particular, like Henrietta Rushwaya, were those implicated in the Asiagate scandal. It was a big blow to Zifa that the same people they had banned from football were actually friends of Benjani, hence the football governing body’s frothing at the mouth. Zifa was angry because Asiagate suspects dribbled past them.
Zifa made all sorts of accusations against the former Air Zimbabwe Jets, FC Zurich, AJ Auxerre, Portsmouth and Manchester City striker, ranging from not remitting a percentage of gate takings from the match to working with what they termed “unscrupulous” elements.
Clearly the “unscrupulous” people Zifa meant were the local fans body led by Eddie “Mboma” Nyatanga who appeared to be in charge of the gates at the National Sports Stadium on match day.
Zifa and the Nyatanga-led organisation have been at loggerheads, with the fans’ grouping accusing Zifa president Cuthbert Dube of buying his way up during elections in March 2010, in parliament.
In the end Benjani’s noble idea was turned into a battleground by the predators in local football. I spoke to Benjani this week and he said he was sad that people turned his event into a war zone. He said this match was a celebration of achievements on the field of play and he had no reason to isolate anyone from Zimbabwe. He thinks people in football today are very petty.
I can’t agree more, because people are supposed to understand Benjani’s motivation in hosting this event. The whole stampede was over cash generated from the match, rather than giving the former national captain a hand in realising his vision of building a school of excellence for football.
The statements made by the protagonists this week never mentioned anything to do with the Bulawayo-born player’s long term vision.
Herein lies the problem.
I strongly believe that Zifa and other stakeholders must dwell more on how they will assist Benjani in establishing his school of excellence in Bulawayo rather than demanding cash from him. The school of excellence is the future of Zimbabwe football; therefore it must be given the respect it deserves.
Here is a player who has acquired knowledge of how football is run in better environments in Europe and wants to set up the same facilities in hishome country, but finds himself entangled in trivial politics. I hope he will not abandon this project because of the short-sightedness of his countrymen.
Money will come and go, but the legacy Benjani is seeking will last forever.