Benjani Mwaruwari

What’s in a footballer’s name?

By Mqondisi Dube

Rashid Yekini, Finidi George, Marks ‘Go Man, Go Man’ Maponyane, John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu, Augustine Azuka ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Aboutrika and Aristide Bance. Some football names just have a natural flow to it; and certainly fit the game.

Locally fans still reminiscence about the likes of Benjani Mwaruwari, Murape Murape, Muchineripi Masvaya, Tauya Murehwa, Tobias Areketa, to name just a few.

These are some names which are sweet music to the ear and usually send soccer fans into wonderland at their mention. It is not necessarily about their soccer skills but the phonetics attached to their names.

Some players are more popular for their names than their skills, while some have catchy names to go with their skills. Some names create an image of a powerful, intimidating player.

Nigerian Ben Iroha, was tough as teak, with an intimidating name and stature. He played for the national team at the same time with another burly player, striker Rashidi Yekini who terrorised defenders during the 1994 World Cup in the US.

There was tearaway winger, Tijani Babangida, Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh among a host of the talented Nigerian squad of the mid-1990s. Football has produced its fair share of palatable names, which correspond with the output on the pitch. Didier Drogba was a fiery striker who did duty for Chelsea. He had a trademark sliding celebration, hands flapping and a distinctive hairstyle, which made him stand out.

He was a finisher of note feared by defenders. His name had an unmistakable sound, the typical stuff that makes football commentators flow in their commentary. There was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink before him at Chelsea, a burly, uncompromising striker. He dispatched penalties with aplomb. He executed spot kicks more like Gabriel Batistuta, another with a football-like name.

Batistuta would thump the ball with so much power and precision from just 12-yards out. ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha was another who stood out. He mesmerised, leaving commentators in awe. Okocha was more like a reference to his dribbling abilities, more than a name.
There was Helman Mkhelele in South Africa who had a nickname to behold, ‘Midnight Express’ and fans could figure out an express train in full flow.

Jerry Sikhosana’s nickname ‘The Legs of Thunder’ also caught the eye. Augustine Makalakalane was another with a catchy name. There was Tauya ‘The Flying Doctor’ Murehwa and Mercedes ‘Rambo’ Sibanda, among the many names that rhymed well with football fans.

Derby Makinka mesmerised fans, before his tragic demise in a plane crash carrying the Zambian national team off the coast of Gabon in 1993. The Democratic Republic of Congo had Shabani Nonda, while in Cameroon there were players like Cyril Makanaky and Francois Omam Biyik.

Temur Ketsbaia and Nikos Dabizas’ names caught the eye but they were not necessarily household names. There was the bald Gianluca Vialli and the silver-haired Fabrizio Ravanelli.

Their names were unmistakable as so was their talent. Gianfraco Zola was another Italian with a name that flowed with his football skills. Not too far from the names were nicknames, with the likes of Mandla ‘Sukunyetsa’ Sibanda given a rhythmic moniker.

And then there was Benjani Mwaruwari, the tear-away Zimbabwean striker whose name confused journalists as much as he confused defenders. For a time, many newspapers published his name as Mwaruwaru even after he was already playing for Manchester City in the English Premiership.

There was Trinity Nko in an ECCO City Greens line-up which took local football by storm around 2008. Not too far from Nko was Zecco Makafiri, another unmistakable name.

But it was not only the players with ‘proper’ football names who excelled, some with what can be regarded as soft names have had more than their fair share of success.

Two the world’s leading superstars, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo do not have a commentators dream for a name. □

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