By Graham Berger
Four months ago, Zimbabwean international Benjamin Mwaruwari was ready to pack his bags and return to Africa following a disappointing debut season in Europe with Swiss side Grasshopper-Club.
Roux offers chance
However, veteran AJ Auxerre coach Guy Roux - who has nurtured African talent including Nigeria's Taribo West - had different ideas and offered Mwaruwari a move to Ligue 1 in France. The 24-year-old took the opportunity with both hands, scoring on his August debut against Montpellier Hérault SC.
Now Mwaruwari is top of the French scoring charts with seven league goals from ten matches, having helped Auxerre into first place, and made history by becoming the first Zimbabwean to play in the UEFA Champions League. It is a far cry from his time with Grasshoppers, where he registered just one goal in 25 matches on loan from Jomo Cosmos of South Africa.
Ready to return
Mwaruwari now says of that period: "I played a little bit at the beginning, mainly as a substitute, and I was reasonably happy with the way things were going. But then halfway through the season they changed the coach. The new coach [Marcel Koller] did not seem to believe in me and I found myself watching most of the matches from the stands. My confidence was very low by the end and I thought I would have to go back to South Africa where I knew I could be successful."
'I was lucky'
But then in came Roux. "To be honest, I am as surprised as everyone else," Mwaruwari admits of his sudden success. "When my loan spell with Grasshoppers finished, I thought I had missed my chance. I thought it would be impossible for me to carry on playing in Europe. But I was lucky because my agent knew Guy Roux and managed to arrange a trial for me with Auxerre.
"It was really tough because it was not just me - there were several other strikers on trial," he adds. "In the end Guy Roux had to choose between me and one other. He was not sure who to go for so he asked the players. And luckily they said they wanted me."
'He has helped me'
And there is no doubting Roux's influence. "He has helped me a lot," Mwaruwari says. "When I first arrived he found me a nice house just ten minutes away from the stadium. And he was always asking me if I was happy. It is nice to know when you arrive in a foreign country that there is somebody looking out for you."
'Best moment of my career'
Mwaruwari's European experience has been the icing on the cake. "
Everybody in Zimbabwe has been supporting Auxerre in the Champions League because of me and I seem to have become a real celebrity back home," he says. "It has been a great experience. Winning at Arsenal [FC] was fantastic and probably the best moment of my career so far."
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