Johannesburg – There was a time, long ago, when Collins Mbesuma was the goalscoring darling of Kaizer Chiefs. And there was a time, not so long ago, when Bernard Parker seemed a million miles away from assuming that mantle at Naturena.
Well, the times, to borrow from Mr Bob Dylan, they are a-changin’. If Mbesuma takes the field at the start of Saturday afternoon’s Soweto derby it will be in direct opposition to the Amakhosi, in the black and white of Orlando Pirates. But Chiefs fans can be reassured by the knowledge that in Parker, they have a man transformed, a man who last season treated the back of the net like a mortal enemy, but who now sits swimmingly atop the Absa Premiership scoring charts.
At opposite ends of the pitch, it could well be one of these two strikers who unlocks this derby to send their supporters home with not just Soweto bragging rights, but also a lusty blow in the Absa Premiership title race.
Mbesuma is not quite the same player who smashed in 25 league goals the last time Chiefs won the title, pipping Pirates to the post in the 2004/5 season. The Zambian with thunder in his left foot never exactly possessed staggering mobility, and it has now slowed down to even more of a stroll.
But find Mbesuma in space in front of goal, with the ball at his feet, and there remains only one place it is likely to end up. Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune could testify to this as recently as last month, when Mbesuma sent an unstoppable effort past him at Soccer City to give Zambia the Nelson Mandela Challenge.
And it has not been a bad first season either in Pirates colours for the man they call “Ntofo-ntofo”. Mbesuma has five goals in league and cup for the Buccaneers this season, taking a while to get back to match fitness, but then opening his account with a brace against the University of Pretoria at the start of October.
Mbesuma added another double against Black Leopards in the Telkom Knockout, before producing a rocket similar to his Zambia goal against Leopards in a league game towards the end of November.
If Mbesuma has been good, Parker has been inspired. His confidence restored this season under Amakhosi coach Stuart Baxter, the 26-year-old has rocketed back into the Bafana fold, netting nine times in 14 league and cup appearances.
Parker hit the ground sprinting with an amazing four goals in Chiefs’ opening league game against AmaZulu, and looked set to break records, as he netted seven times in Chiefs’ first five league games. There was another strike in Chiefs’ Telkom Knockout defeat to Bidvest Wits, but Parker did have a slight lull in the league, netting his first Absa Premiership goal since the end of September against Ajax Cape Town on Tuesday night. Chiefs fans might consider that perfect timing just ahead of the derby.
If Parker has less heartening memories of last season, the first round league derby did provide one moment of inspiration, his brilliant free-kick helping Chiefs to a 2-1 win.
More magic from Parker tomorrow, and Chiefs could be well on their way. However, Mbesuma doubtlessly has other ideas. Can the man who used to light up Chiefs, stick a black and white dagger through the heart of his old accomplices? – The Star