Chiefs’ for­eign le­gion

Soccer Laduma - - Front Page -

Kaizer Chiefs have a long tra­di­tion of ex­cep­tional for­eign play­ers who have writ­ten their names into South African foot­ball folk­lore, help­ing AmaKhosi to tro­phy suc­cess and al­lowed them to grow their brand across the con­ti­nent. Th­ese for­eign­ers have also not al­ways had it easy though, with Chiefs fans of­ten quick to write them off if per­for­mances do not match ex­pec­ta­tions early on in their stay. It is of­ten said that for­eign play­ers in the do­mes­tic game must work twice as hard and be twice as good to re­ceive recog­ni­tion from fans, and this can cre­ate chal­lenges for them away from what hap­pens on the pitch. Zam­bian striker Collins Mbe­suma is one of the best ever for­eign im­ports into the lo­cal game and his golden sea­son at Chiefs in the 2004/05 cam­paign is un­likely to ever be re­peated. He scored 35 goals in league and cup for the club, help­ing them to the Premier Soc­cer League ti­tle as well as the Co­caCola Cup. It is a re­mark­able re­turn as he daz­zled op­po­si­tion de­fences, and in terms of for­eign im­ports, he has per­haps made the most in­cred­i­ble im­pact for AmaKhosi. But even he ad­mits that at first he wanted to go back home to Zam­bia, find­ing life at Na­turena dif­fi­cult, as he speaks ex­clu­sively to Soc­cer Lad­uma about his stay at the club.

How did your move to Kaizer Chiefs in the 2003/04 sea­son come about?

I was play­ing for the Zam­bia Un­der- 23 side in the Olympic qual­i­fiers and we beat South Africa 1-0 in Potchef­stroom. I scored the goal. I re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day, I had a good game and I was spot­ted there by Chiefs. It was in early Jan­uary 2004 [Jan­uary 3] and Chiefs signed me a few weeks later. I think pretty much based on how I played in that game. What was your emotions when you knew they wanted to sign you?

I was ex­cited be­cause, as a young player – I was only 19 then, al­most 20 – it was my am­bi­tion to play out­side of Zam­bia. So this was a for­eign move for me. Ok, it was not to Europe, but South Africa was a good start and it pro­vided a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment where you could make a liv­ing from foot­ball, which was not the case in Zam­bia. I wanted to come here badly. How did you set­tle in?

I am not go­ing to lie, it was very hard in the be­gin­ning. I was very home­sick, I had come straight from liv­ing at home to a new coun­try with peo­ple I did not know. So I wanted to go home ini­tially. I just wanted to leave. But you know, Chiefs had a team of won­der­ful men. Not just great foot­ballers, but won­der­ful men. The likes of Shoes Moshoeu, Ti­nashe Nen­go­masha, Patrick Mabedi … they helped me set­tle in and en­cour­aged me a lot. If it was not for those guys, and oth­ers, I don’t know … they made me feel like I was in a fam­ily, which is just what I needed at the time. Al­most ev­ery player in the squad was older than me, so I was this young­ster from a for­eign coun­try, but they made sure I was ok. The coach [Ted Du­mitru] also knew my fa­ther [Fran­cis Ka­jiya] from back in Zam­bia, so that helped also. Do you re­mem­ber your de­but?

Of course, be­cause I scored and got badly in­jured in mak­ing the goal [laughs]. It was against Black Leop­ards, af­ter 15 or so min­utes, the cross came in and I went to shoot. As I did my studs got stuck

in the pitch and I twisted my an­kle. It was still a goal, so that was nice but I was out for a while [two months] and the an­kle both­ered me when I came back, so I was not at my best for the rest of the sea­son.

Af­ter you came back you were in and out of the team for the rest of that cam­paign. Did you feel like you could make it at the club and how did the fans treat you in that pe­riod?

Yes, it was a dif­fi­cult pe­riod but the coach was very pa­tient with me and that helped. The fans … how can I put this … they were not sure about me, and maybe rightly so be­cause the an­kle meant I could not show them what I was ca­pa­ble of. So the fans looked at me and maybe won­dered if I had what it takes.

Are we cor­rect in say­ing you had not played as a striker be­fore you joined Chiefs? It seems re­mark­able …

It is true! I started as a left-back and then was play­ing left-wing for Zam­bia Un­der-23s. It was only when I joined Chiefs that I started play­ing as a striker, so that was an­other thing that was dif­fi­cult, ad­just­ing to this new po­si­tion. When you are used to play­ing out wide then have to do it more cen­trally, you have to ad­just your whole game. It took some time but, like I said, the coach was

very pa­tient with me. He helped me a lot. And then came the sec­ond sea­son where you scored 35 goals in 42 starts for the club in all com­pe­ti­tions, start­ing on the open­ing day of the league cam­paign with a hat-trick against Dy­namos …

I was more re­laxed in the sec­ond sea­son. I had set­tled in, had a good pre-sea­son, knew my team­mates bet­ter and, maybe most im­por­tantly, they knew me bet­ter. They knew what my strengths were and we played to those. And as a striker, the more you score, the most you want to play, and when you are scor­ing ev­ery week it is the best feel­ing. Of course, I could not have done it with­out the team we had. A great team that was gelling in ev­ery depart­ment. We did not have any weak­nesses. I just felt so con­fi­dent in ev­ery game.

It was maybe in­evitable af­ter that sea­son that an over­seas team would come in for you and you moved to English Premier League side Portsmouth. Did you have any hes­i­ta­tion?

No hes­i­ta­tion, be­cause that was the dream, right? Ok, things did not work out, I got a bad [knee] in­jury, but I don’t re­gret any­thing. I think I was maybe a lit­tle un­lucky, but when I went to Por­tu­gal [Mar­itimo] I did

pretty well, I think I fin­ished with seven goals and had some good games. I don’t re­gret leav­ing Chiefs then. I be­lieved in my­self that I could make it.

By the time you fin­ished at Chiefs you were a fan favourite, did you re­alise then the im­pact you had on the team?

I think back then it did not click with me but now I see it still, all th­ese years on. Chiefs fans still stop me on the street and want to talk about my time there. They still re­mem­ber me but, at the time, I did not see the im­pact I

was mak­ing. Ok, they would chant my name in games, Mr Putco Mafani (then Chiefs PRO) made sure of that!

You are still play­ing at the age of 36, and still scor­ing for Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria with 10 goals this sea­son. How long will you go on?

As long as I can run and I am still en­joy­ing play­ing, I want to go on. Like you said, I am still scor­ing goals so I am con­tribut­ing to my team. That is the most im­por­tant thing. I just take it sea­son-by-sea­son, I have no plans to stop yet.

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