By Langton Nyakwenda
The highly regarded Brendan Rodgers saw something special in the player, which prompted the gaffer to sign him when he was still in charge of Scottish giants Celtic.
Rodgers, who is now at Leicester City, even described Kundai Benyu as one for the future soon after the England-born Zimbabwean midfielder had completed his move from Ipswich to Celtic in 2017.
Swedish legend and former Barcelona striker Henrik Larson was mesmerised by Benyu when the midfielder took his skills to that country’s top-flight on a loan spell in 2019.
But, somewhere along the way, Benyu lost his way.
The 23-year-old player never really got the chance to shine at Celtic, despite impressing in some Champions League games in Scotland.
A loan spell to Oldham in 2018 never really brought the spark back for Benyu, who ended up at Helsingborg in Sweden on another loan stint the following season.
Benyu is now at England National League side Wealdstone, but the midfielder could be on the move again as a new deal is about to be finalised with a team in Iceland.
Labelled arrogant and controversial in some quarters, Benyu says he is now focused on reviving his career.
He has his eyes on the Zimbabwe national team jersey.
He was among the England-born Zimbabwean players — often referred to as the British Brigade — called up by Warriors coach Zdravko “Loga” Logarusic for a friendly tie against Malawi in October, but he couldn’t make it because of passport issues.
“I am ready for the Warriors and I want to fight for my place in the team.
“I have been called up recently but had some issues with my passport, which I am sorting out. I really want to add to my international experience not only for my career but also for the love of my country Zimbabwe,” Benyu told The Sunday Mail Sport.
The last time out, Logarusic had issues with some members of the British Brigade in the run-up to back-to-back AFCON qualifiers against Algeria in November.
The Croat, still looking for his first win in charge of the Warriors, accused some players of lacking the will to play for Zimbabwe.
“We are not going to beg anyone. We do not want players with no desire to play for their country.
“A player has got to have respect for the country where his parents were born,” Loga told The Sunday Mail Sport back then.
The gaffer has already begun plotting for the looming final qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia in March, and he will surely need the entire arsenal at his disposal.
In the delicate qualification race, Zimbabwe are second with five points, Botswana lie third with four and Zambia anchor the standings with three.
Unbeaten Algeria — with 10 points — have already secured their place at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations Cup finals in Cameroon.
The Sunday Mail Sport understands the coach has extended an invitation to Reading star Andy Rinomhota, while negotiations with Luton Town’s Brendan Galloway are underway.
Queens Park Rangers striker Macauley Bonne’s commitment to the Warriors has always been questionable, but a close relative of the player confirmed last week that he was now available for national duty.
However, Benyu says he has always cherished playing for Zimbabwe and will be the first one on the plane if called for duty, although the availability of England-based players now hangs in balance due to tightened Covid-19 travel regulations in the United Kingdom.
“My dad is always back and forth between England and Zimbabwe. I speak regularly with all my family in Zimbabwe, which is why I love playing for Zimbabwe,” says Benyu, who last played for the Warriors in an international friendly against Namibia in 2017.
“Putting on that Warriors jersey is powerful and it means a lot to me even though I was born in England.
“I want the best for Zimbabwe and I ask Zimbabweans to keep supporting the Warriors. Imagine if we qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals and go all the way to the final.
“Imagine what that will do to the nation. That will make everyone proud and people will have something positive to talk about,” he said.
The Warriors play Botswana on March 22, before wrapping up their campaign with a home tie against Zambia a week later.
“The Warriors have done it before (qualifying) and nothing can stop us if we work hard. I am Mhofu (totem) for life and I love my country,” said Benyu.
He knows his career has not lived up to expectations given the plaudits he received from revered coaches like Rodgers four years ago.
Rodgers left Celtic in February 2019 and was replaced by Neil Lennon.
“I am not happy at all with my career progress. I expect a lot better.
“It feels like yesterday when I was playing in the Champions League with Celtic.
“It’s not my fault though; we had a change of manager at Celtic and also a change of philosophy. My style of play didn’t fit anymore.
“When I left Celtic Covid-19 struck. But I guess I could have done better to adapt but that’s football. I have learnt a lot from that experience.”
He now feels rejuvenated and is hopeful he can still make it to the top.
“I may seem arrogant because I believe in my ability, but not in a disrespectful way. I know I am good enough to play at the highest level because I have proved it.
In the Champions League I showed it. In Sweden I showed it,” he said.
“I worked hard at Ipswich and got a deal with Celtic. I worked hard there but things didn’t work out for various reasons. I was on good money at Celtic.
“I like my clothes and there is nothing wrong with that. I like nice things but I am still respectful. I still work hard and I still respect my parents and everyone around me.”
The midfielder is now being managed by SRV Sports Group, owned by a UK-based Zimbabwean, Tendai Nyatito.
“We have noticed that Benyu has been neglected a lot during his career in England. One thing I believe is that he has a reputation that he is arrogant and a little bit too big for his boots, which in some aspects can be true because of his personality.
“But he is talented and his ambition is to play for the national team in Zimbabwe. He is actually working harder to revive his career,” said Nyatito.
While it not yet clear when the Warriors preparations will begin, reports from Gaborone indicate that Botswana have now gone into camp.
According to a statement released by the Botswana Football Association on Thursday, of the 30-man provisional squad named by coach Adel Amrouche, only three players – Oropa United’s Lesenya Ramoraka and the Gaborone United duo of Tshepo Maikano and Mishani Thupa – are not in camp for reasons known by the association.
The delicate Group H log standings mean Zimbabwe, Botswana or Zambia could secure the second qualification spot for the finals.
However, results of the penultimate round of matches could yet determine who joins the Algerian Desert Foxes from Group H.
This is because a win for the Warriors over the Zebras in Gaborone and a loss at home by Zambia’s Chipolopolo against Algeria would seal the deal for Zimbabwe, who are chasing a third successive AFCON qualification.
Should Loga’s men lose in Botswana, they would need to beat Zambia in their final match and also pray that the Desert Foxes do them a huge favour by beating the Zebras in Algeria. The Sunday Mail