Collins Mbesuma

Kick Off - - Inside - BY LOVE­MORE MOYO

The burly striker speaks of his resur­gence in the Na­tional First Di­vi­sion, be­fore declar­ing his am­bi­tion to claim the PSL’s Golden Boot for the third time.

When­ever the rare op­por­tu­nity presents it­self to chat face to face with PSL record holder Collins Mbesuma, the Zam­bian for­ward is never shy to talk his mind. The burly goal ma­chine is cur­rently at­tached to Na­tional First Di­vi­sion rook­ies Mac­cabi FC, yet de­spite last play­ing in the PSL in May 2017, he doesn’t mince his words in declar­ing that he will re­turn to top-flight foot­ball and be top scorer yet again.

The mag­i­cal num­ber 35 … the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble tally of goals scored by Collins Mbesuma in all com­pe­ti­tions for Kaizer Chiefs across the 2004/05 cam­paign, which re­mains a record for the most goals scored in a sin­gle sea­son still to­day. That un­for­get­table cam­paign played a large part in help­ing the well-built marks­man be­come one of only five play­ers to ever reach the 100 goals mark in the PSL, de­spite hav­ing spent three years of his ca­reer in Europe. When he joined Na­tional First Di­vi­sion side Mac­cabi FC in March, Mbesuma had been on the side­lines for seven months af­ter be­ing forced out by a knee in­jury picked up while on the books of Highlands Park through their dis­as­trous first spell in the PSL. At that time, Mac­cabi were a mere third-tier club play­ing in the ABC Mot­sepe League Gaut­eng stream, but were on course for the ti­tle and pos­si­ble pro­mo­tion. Con­sid­er­ing their sta­tus, the money the tal­is­manic striker was of­fered to join Mac­cabi wasn’t the best, yet he didn’t waste much time in flex­ing his mus­cles as his goals helped the lowly club win pro­mo­tion to the NFD, send­ing out a timely re­minder of his goal scor­ing prow­ess. With his fit­ness im­prov­ing af­ter dust­ing off the ef­fects of his long in­jury lay-off, Mbesuma de­cided to stay on with the Jo­han­nes­burg-based club. And it is no sur­prise that he has led from the front this sea­son, with his five goals so far do­ing the talk­ing for the new kids on the block, who also have ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers Le­bo­hang Mokoena and Thapelo Tshilo on their books. De­spite hav­ing never played in the lower di­vi­sions through all of his pre­vi­ous ten sea­sons in South Africa, Mbesuma says he has no qualms about fea­tur­ing in the First Di­vi­sion. “I was born as a soc­cer player, so I can fit into any en­vi­ron­ment as long as there is foot­ball,” he says while tak­ing off his boots af­ter a tough train­ing ses­sion over­seen by head coach Mokete Tsotetsi. “As long as I am kick­ing a foot­ball, I can play any­where. That’s me. Where I play doesn’t mat­ter, as long as I am en­joy­ing my foot­ball and am able to help the team move for­ward. I signed for this team when it was in the ABC Mot­sepe League and then went with them to the play-offs where I did what I had to do, which was to help the team gain pro­mo­tion to the NFD. My aim is now to get us into the PSL.”

NFD ex­pe­ri­ence

With ex­pe­ri­ence in both the ABC Mot­sepe League and First Di­vi­sion af­ter a decade in the PSL, Mbesuma is well-in­formed to dis­cuss the dif­fer­ences in the foot­ball played across South Africa’s top three di­vi­sions. “It has not been easy foot­ball-wise, but I’m happy I’m with a team that is run pro­fes­sion­ally,” he says. “I have had to adapt to the play­ing style be­cause here I have to work ex­tra hard. The foot­ball in this league is very phys­i­cal and in­volves a lot of run­ning, un­like in the PSL where it is more about us­ing your brains. Luck­ily here we have coaches who want to im­ple­ment the same kind of think­ing in the PSL, so we are mov­ing well in that di­rec­tion, plus we are get­ting to bet­ter un­der­stand each other.” As the PSL’s record-holder, many were sur­prised at the striker’s de­ci­sion to join a third-tier out­fit, with Mbesuma him­self re­veal­ing the thought process be­hind his choice. “Af­ter a long in­jury I had to start some­where,” he says. “You must un­der­stand that I went al­most eight months with­out even kick­ing a ball, so I couldn’t start up there [in the PSL]. I needed to bring back my fit­ness, so that is why I had to come and start here. When I un­der­went the knee surgery I was still at Highlands Park and it was in the mid­dle of the sea­son [in De­cem­ber 2016], but then be­cause of the rel­e­ga­tion fight the club was faced

"THIS WAS THE WORST IN­JURY I EVER HAD BE­CAUSE I COULDN'T EVEN DO ANY­THING."

with, I came back be­fore I had fully re­cov­ered. This was the worst in­jury I have ever had be­cause I couldn’t even do any­thing. I just had to sit, but thank God I was able to come back and start run­ning and then start play­ing again. God is good – I wasn’t even sup­posed to play again [af­ter the in­jury]. Do you know that even though I was play­ing, I couldn’t even kick the ball? Imag­ine! The trou­ble is that when you tell the team you are in­jured, some peo­ple think you are not se­ri­ous. “When I ini­tially came here to keep fit, I thought it was an am­a­teur team, but then when I saw the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, I could tell this was a team go­ing some­where. I joined this team be­cause I could re­late to the am­bi­tion they were show­ing. This is a chal­lenge I needed be­cause some peo­ple thought Mbesuma was gone, but I’m back now. I will never give up in my life. My fit­ness level at the mo­ment is top-notch and at 100%.”

PSL re­turn

While his role at Mac­cabi is broad, it doesn’t di­lute the fact that as a striker, Mbesuma will be ex­pected to pro­vide goals that will win matches. He knows all too well that scor­ing goals is the pri­mary rea­son he was signed and de­clares he will be chal­leng­ing for the top scorer award – a feat he achieved twice in the PSL – once more. “I have to score goals,” he states. “As a striker you can­not hide. I’m not a de­fender or mid­fielder, so I have to score goals. I was signed to come and score goals, so I have to chal­lenge for the top scorer award.” If the goals do in­deed flow, the chances of Mac­cabi ul­ti­mately win­ning pro­mo­tion in the same way that for­mer third-tier clubs like Baroka, Chippa United and Highlands Park have done in re­cent years will no doubt ex­po­nen­tially in­crease. “That is the am­bi­tion of the team af­ter all, from the management to coaches and the play­ers,” Mbesuma says. “How­ever, they are not putting us un­der pres­sure be­cause they want us to en­joy our foot­ball first. As play­ers, we know where we want to take this team as well.” Those who think the veteran striker has no in­ten­tions of play­ing PSL foot­ball again, with many writ­ing him off as be­ing well past his sell-by date, need to re­con­sider their view, ac­cord­ing to the de­ter­mined for­ward him­self. “Yes I do,” he replies when asked about mulling over a pos­si­ble re­turn to South Africa’s top-flight. “I’m only 33. It hap­pens all the time that peo­ple say Collins is fin­ished, but I al­ways come back. I can still be the top scorer again. Peo­ple will al­ways talk. When you are not play­ing, peo­ple will al­ways talk and say you are fin­ished. But it is fine with me … they can talk and say I am fin­ished, but when I am play­ing I al­ways know that some­thing will hap­pen. I will come back and be top scorer again. I am not talk­ing about be­liev­ing, but I am talk­ing about what will hap­pen.” His con­fi­dence may be mis­con­strued as ar­ro­gance, yet the striker in­sists that this is

"THIS IS A CHAL­LENGE I NEEDED BE­CAUSE SOME PEO­PLE THOUGHT MBESYMA WAS GONE, BUT I'M BACK NOW."

merely who he is. “Foot­ball is my life and so if I don’t have con­fi­dence in my­self, then it is bet­ter I stay at home,” he says. “I will do any­thing to see my­self up again.” Still at stake for Mbesuma is Siyabonga Nomvethe’s all-time PSL top scorer record to chase. The re­tired AmaZulu veteran has 123 goals to his name while Mbesuma has scored 103 goals in South Africa’s top-flight, mak­ing him one of just five foot­ballers to have net­ted a cen­tury of strikes since the in­cep­tion of the league in 1996. The other three are Mab­huti Khenyeza (110), Daniel Mu­dau (108) and Manuel “Tico-Tico” Bu­cuane (104). “That record is also one of the rea­sons why I still want to come back to the PSL,” the Zam­bian says. “If Nomvethe has re­tired now at 41 and I’m still 33, what is that telling you? I’m 33 now so I can still reach that record of 123 and ac­tu­ally go past it. I’m a man of vi­sion; I al­ways have a vi­sion. For now, I just want to fo­cus on Mac­cabi be­cause I want to see this team grow and hope­fully we can play in the PSL soon.” His record of 35 goals in one sea­son, which in­cluded 25 league strikes, is seem­ingly safe con­sid­er­ing the Golden Boot win­ners’ tal­lies of late, with Mbesuma him­self jok­ingly point­ing out the one per­son who may still reach that cov­eted mark. “I have left all of that to God be­cause it is only God who knows. If I’m still play­ing, I can also break the record my­self since no one else seems in­ter­ested,” the soft-spo­ken for­ward gig­gles. “What I have seen is that most strik­ers don’t be­lieve in them­selves. They don’t be­lieve in want­ing it all the time. As a striker you can miss goals, but don’t run away from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing the next chance. Don’t ever run away from that re­spon­si­bil­ity – keep go­ing. Do you know that in the sea­son when I scored 35 goals for Kaizer Chiefs, I was booed by the Chiefs fans af­ter I went four games with­out scor­ing [in Jan­uary 2005]? Through that pe­riod when the fans called for me to be sub­sti­tuted I never gave up, but kept my head up and con­tin­ued train­ing hard which is why I was able to come back and score goals. With other play­ers, I know if they go four or five games with­out scor­ing and start get­ting booed, their con­fi­dence goes down badly. As a striker you must have self-be­lief, plus ex­tra train­ing is key be­cause there is no way you can start scor­ing in a game when you have not been do­ing it at train­ing. Even with me, if I don’t train shoot­ing for one month I will lose that fin­ish­ing touch, but if I’m do­ing it ev­ery week it be­comes smooth.” The men­tion of his sons – who are also ac­tive in the game and play age-group foot­ball in Jo­han­nes­burg – near the end of our in­ter­view brings out yet an­other wild laugh from Mbesuma. “We now have a com­pe­ti­tion in the house and they are ac­tu­ally the ones who push me the hard­est,” he cack­les. “Af­ter ev­ery game I have to ex­plain to them if I didn’t score. And even with them, when we’re driv­ing af­ter their games, they also have to ex­plain if they didn’t score. So the pres­sure for me starts in the house be­cause I have three boys at home. They are aged 6, 11 and 13, so you can imag­ine the noise. The old­est boy is a mid­fielder-cum-striker while the sec­ond-old­est is a striker, but they are still kids so they might change po­si­tions just like I did when I was younger. I started out as a num­ber three, but ended up play­ing as a striker.”

"THAT RECORD IS ALSO ONE OF THE REA­SONS WHY I STILL WANT TO COME BACK TO THE PSL."

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