Monday, 22 October 2012

Collins Mbesuma: The former Chief who saved Pirates when they needed it most

Double trouble: Collins Mbesuma has scored twice, twice

“It’s not going to be easy because Orlando Pirates have good strikers. But I will do my best.”

Those were the words uttered by Collins Mbesuma when he signed on the dotted line for Dr Irvin Khoza on August 15, 2012, a full seven years after leaving the employ of the Iron Duke’s arch-rival Kaizer Motaung.

A quick refresher course: way back in 2004/2005 Mbesuma – then barely out of his teens - scored a record 39 goals in all competitions to help Ted Dumitru’s Amakhosi pip the Bucs to the PSL title. The lad from Luanshya was hailed as the next big thing to come out of Africa.

But the European dream didn’t quite work out. Mbesuma, though wanted by Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers, chose a notoriously dodgy transfer to Portsmouth, where he played just four games before things fell apart at Fratton Park.

That was followed by a loan move to Portugal’s Maritimo and an unhappy spell with Bursaspor in Turkey, where his time-keeping was called in to question amid a welter of suspensions.

Mbesuma returned to South Africa in 2008 and tried his hand with Mamelodi Sundowns and Moroka Swallows before finding his feet again at Golden Arrows in Lamontville, where he played 43 games and scored 18 goals to attract the attention of Dr Khoza and his man with the cheque book, Screamer Tshabalala.

Nobody expected much from the experienced feet (and head) of the 28-year-old Zambian, who played only a minor role in his nation’s historic African Cup of Nations triumph last year.

Mbesuma’s best days were behind him, we were told. And they came in the gold-an-black half of Soweto. In that emotional Zambian AFCON triumph last year, Mbesuma played a total of 42 minutes, he was written off as past it and lacking commitment.

He arrived at Pirates as Augusto Palacios’s final signing, saying: “I will just have to prove myself. I want to be successful with Pirates and win things with them. I think I need competition and I know Pirates is a big team so I just want to compete.”

Compete? He’s done more than that. A lot more. With Tokelo Rantie inexplicably allowed to slip away and Takesure Chinayama and Benni McCarthy injured, Mbesuma has proved the unlikely saviour for the new Bucs coaching duo of Roger de Sa and Eric Tinkler.

When they needed inspiration while trailing promoted upstarts AmaTuks 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld a fortnight ago, it was Mbesuma who provided the goals either side of Andile Jali’s penalty to seal a much-needed 3-1 PSL victory against the unbeaten students.

And when they came up against lively Leopards in the Telkom Knock-out on Saturday, there he was again, striking both goals in a 2-0 triumph which left most people raving about the form of Lehlogonolo “Vieira” Masalesa and Sifiso Myeni, both De Sa products from his Clever Boys days.

Yes, De Sa can claim some credit for his former Witsies, but without Mbesuma’s goals, where exactly would Pirates be right now?

With last season’s top-scorer McCarthy approaching fitness and Chinyama also due to return, De Sa has only praise for Mbesuma’s unexpected revival: "I have never doubted Mbesuma's scoring abilities. We are working on improving his fitness and he is making progress. He is showing a lot of commitment and has been doing a lot of work after training."

Mbesuma bubbles: “I must thank Irvin Khoza for giving me a chance to play for Pirates when most of the experts were doubting my ability.

“I feel I have regained my old confidence and I am playing alongside players who can make my job easier, it makes me proud to play for Pirates.”

Question is: with Mbesuma scoring four goals in two games – and another in a friendly during the international break – will there be room anybody else against AmaZulu on Sunday?

A shortened version of this story appeared as my Neal & Pray column in The New Age newspaper today. See every Tuesday...

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