Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
TINO Kadewere’s rapid rise at Olympique Lyon has all the makings of Zimbabwe’s first football player to play in the French Ligue 1, Benjani Mwaruwari.
In fact, the 24-year-old ex-Harare City man could be the next best forward that Zimbabwe has exported to Europe after Peter Ndlovu and Mwaruwari.
But there is something curious about Kadewere’s blistering start to life in France.
The former Prince Edward High school pupil has had heads turning with blinding performances that have seen him scoring five goals in eight starts for Lyon this season.
The decisive goal he grabbed against the reigning Ligue 1 champions, Paris Saint-Germain, at the weekend has catapulted him to the back pages of many newspapers after helping Lyon rise to second place at the end of matchday 14.
Kadewere was the hero in this top-of-the table clash as he virtually outshined some of the global superstars like Brazil’s Neymar, Argentinian Angel Di Maria and French sensation Kylian Mbappe.
“I think this explosive start we are seeing with Tino is similar to that of Benjani,” said legendary football commentator, Charles “CNN” Mabika.
“Benjani had such a fine start to life in France. He scored some critical goals on arrival and his goals were typical of a hard working forward.
“But I think he has been exposed to more competitive football and he knew exactly what it meant and what was required of him when he moved to France because he had played top-flight football in Switzerland.”
When Mwaruwari arrived at Auxerre, back in 2002, not much was known about the Zimbabwean forward. He was virtually a nobody in the top European professional leagues, having previously played for Grasshoppers in Switzerland and Jomo Cosmos in South Africa between 1999 and 2002.
But his impact was immediate. Within few weeks, he was already making waves at AJ Auxerre and was voted Ligue 1 player of the Month in September and October 2002.
He scored on his debut in his team’s 2-0 win over Montpellier. Just like Kadewere, Mwaruwari was also 24-years-old when he arrived in France from Switzerland, where he had played for Grasshoppers. He signed a three-year deal at Auxerre.
Ahead of him in terms of the pecking order was the reigning Ligue 1 Golden Boot winner Djibril Cisse. But when the French World Cup striker suffered an injury, doors opened for the unassuming Zimbabwean forward.
Benjani grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He started his debut season like a house on fire, with an amazing tally of seven goals in his first two months.
Despite being number two to former France national team striker Cisse, Mwaruwari would always prove his potency in front of goal whenever he got a chance.
While at Auxerre, Benjani scored the opening goal in the 2005 Coupe de France final as they defeated Paris St Germain. He also played as a substitute in the final as they won the tournament two years earlier in 2003.
Such was the unexpected impact that in October 2002 The Evening Standard reported: “But since arriving virtually unnoticed at Auxerre at the start of the season, the 24-year-old Zimbabwean forward has stolen the show as he stands in for injured French sensation Djibril Cisse.
“Mwaruwari’s signing proves that wily old Auxerre coach Guy Roux has lost none of his talent-spotting abilities. Roux took him on trial and he scored on his debut against Montpellier.
“Since then he has etched an astonishing record in the French League with six goals in 313 minutes of action — or one goal every 52 minutes — taking him top of their goal scoring charts.”
Fast forward 16 years later, the script reads more of the same following the arrival of another Zimbabwean striker — Kadewere.
Kadewere first shook French football last season when he scooped the Ligue 2 Golden Boot after banging in 20 goals from 24 matches for Le Havre.
This necessitated his £12 million move to Lyon. Many football commentators, including Mwaruwari in an interview with our sister paper, The Sunday Mail, had suggested that Kadewere could struggle at first to break into the team that has talented players like Moussa Dembele, Carl Toko-Ekambi and Memphis Depay.
“But from what has happened so far, I think Tino has proved more mettle. Not taking anything away from anyone, I think this boy has had a more difficult terrain to conquer before he could establish himself.
“He has just been whisked straight into the tough Ligue 1 where some of the world’s most expensive stars are playing. It was normal that he should be struggling even to make the team but he doesn’t look like a stranger,” said Mabika.
Kadewere won the acclaim in Lyon when he scored a brace that decided the derby against Saint Etienne recently.
The 24-year-old forward came off the bench to replace Dembele in the 57th minute and made the difference with two well-taken goals.
His team were behind at half-time. Kadewere set some records in the process as he became the first player to come from the bench and score a brace in the Derby.
“I am optimistic that he will be able to follow in the footsteps and even achieve greater things than Mwaruwari, who later on went to play in the English Premiership.
“We never really know what the future holds but Tino has learnt the ropes quickly. Even if he doesn’t go to the English Premiership, I am sure he can still make the grade in the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A or any of Europe’s top leagues.
“One of Benjani’s strongest weapons was his robust movement on and off the ball. He could bulldoze his way past any defence but Tino is more stylish, he is more refined and can use his pace and deceptiveness to greater effect.
“He probably needs to stay in France one or two more seasons before considering moving away,” said Mabika.