In the second of our new series ‘My Debut’, we look not only at the player’s first senior match for the Club, but the whole process from the moment they were told they would be in the team to the journey home afterwards.
Benjani Mwaruwari was signed on transfer deadline day in February 2008 from Portsmouth.
He would only make 31 appearances during an injury-hit stay with City - but what a start he made as the Manchester giants met at Old Trafford on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster…
Now, in Benji’s own words, relive what it’s really like to make your debut in the cauldron of a Manchester derby…
“I didn’t sign in time for the game against Arsenal due to a delay in the paperwork, which wasn't cleared until Thursday morning, so the first game I was available for was United away the following Sunday.
“Sven-Goran Eriksson didn’t say too much and I started to train with the lads. I didn’t expect to just walk into the side just because I was a new signing, so I had no idea whether I would play against United or not. Most managers don’t pick the team until the day of the game so I’d say I didn’t know until midday on game day.”
“I’d come from Portsmouth so I didn’t read too much into the Manchester derby ahead of the game. It was on the week building up to the match that I could feel the excitement, tension and expectation and it was then it sort of hit me and I thought ‘yeah, this is a big match!’”
“These sort of games look after themselves and you don’t need any motivation. I was new to the Manchester derby, but I understood what it meant straight away.
"Of course, with it being the anniversary of Munich, this game also meant even more to the United fans so when there was a minute’s silence before the game and all the scarves went up – red and blue – I knew this was a special day and that I had to try and do something special, too.”
“We were winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from Darius Vassell. I think Martin Petrov took a corner at the end our fans were at and it was just on half-time.
The ball was half-cleared to Stephen Ireland and he played it back to Petrov who put in a great cross and I think one of the hairs on my had brushed it on the way and it ended in the bottom left corner.
I remember Micah Richards had made a lunge to connect and so Edwin van der Sar couldn’t commit himself because I think he wanted to punch the ball clear. It was a great feeling and I ran off to celebrate in the corner in front of our fans.”
“I had been in the dressing room with Carlo the masseur and the TV was on. I think it was Britain’s Got Talent and there was this guy on from South America who won the show, but when the presenters were asking him how he felt, he couldn’t speak any English so he just started pointing at the fans as if to say ‘you, you, you and all of you’, so Carlo said that if I scored in the derby, that’s what I should do. I did score and I did that celebration!”
Seeing the game out
“That put us 2-0 up at half-time, but we knew that this Manchester United side often came back, so we expected them to really come at us. They were at the top of the game at the time. We knew the game wasn’t won and that made us extra cautious because we also knew we hadn’t won there for 34 years, so I think that apprehension helped us win the game. We didn’t get carried away, did our jobs and even when Carrick scored on 90 minutes, we knew we still had a job to do.”
“I had promised a shirt to a close friend, but when I saw it was a specially designed kit for that game with no shirt sponsors, I told him he couldn’t have it and that I’d get him another a week later! I had two of the shirts for the game and I still have them to this day.”
Sven just said ‘well done guys’ – he was a man of few words but he was happy.
“I was staying at the Hilton in Manchester with my wife and kids and decided to go for a celebration drink with one of my friends. That’s when it really hit me because the club had assigned two bodyguards to go with me and make sure I was safe. Everyone at the bar was looking around wondering who it was and why they needed bodyguards!
“Any City fan I met wanted to buy me a drink, so it was a great day.”
“My wife was at Old Trafford to watch the game and she always came to watch and support me so she was very happy but my kids were all four or under so they didn’t really understand. One was four, one was two and there was our one-year-old as well. Now, we have four kids and they watch the old videos and some of my goals and they understand better.”
Could you sleep after the game?
“I had a couple of drinks and went back to the hotel – under the watchful eye of the bodyguards – and had a decent night’s sleep.
“It was hard to replicate that high because I had a lot of injuries including one that kept me out for a whole season. Scoring the winner in the Manchester derby is hard to top, but the injuries made my stay at City difficult. I still have some good friends like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Kolo Toure, Micah Richards, Vincent Kompany and Craig Bellamy. I enjoyed my time at City, but my debut against United will always be one of my happiest memories.”