A star is born at the COSAFA Castle Cup – Collins Mbesuma

‘King’ Collins Mbesuma rose to prominence for Zambia during the 2003 COSAFA Castle Cup and remains a stalwart of the national team today some 13 years after starring in the Southern African regional championship.

In between Mbesuma has set a goals record in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL), played in Europe and won an African Nations Cup title with Chipolopolo in a glittering career.

And he is still banging in the goals too, currently leading the South African PSL scoring charts this season, where he turns out for Mpumalanga Black Aces.

After beginning his career with Roan United in Zambia, the COSAFA Castle Cup gave Mbesuma his first real taste of competitive international action when he represented Chipolopolo in the closing stages of the 2003 tournament.

He netted in his first ever appearance, a 4-2 semi-final victory over Mozambique in July of that year, just a few months past his 19th birthday.

He was selected again for the semi-finals against Malawi the following month, but despite the youngster keeping his cool to net in the shoot-out, Zambia lost 4-2 on penalties to The Flames.

It was from that COSAFA Castle Cup tournament that his career sky-rocketed. He signed for South African side Kaizer Chiefs shortly afterwards and would become a legend at the club despite playing a little over one season at Naturena.

He netted 35 goals in 42 appearances for AmaKhosi in the 2004/05 season, including a record 25 goals in their league campaign alone as he catapulted them to the championship title.

And Mbesuma was a driving force behind Zambia cruising through the early group phase of the 2005 COSAFA Castle Cup as he netted a brace of goals against both Swaziland (in a 3-0 win) and Malawi (2-1) to finish top-scorer of the competition despite only playing in two games.

His subsequent move to English Premier League side Portsmouth in July 2005 meant he was not available for the latter stages of the competition that year and Zambia felt his absence as they were defeated 1-0 in the final by Zimbabwe.

Mbesuma’s future career would be stunted to a degree by injury, but it is a tribute to his mental strength and passion or the game that he remains such an influential player to this day.

The big question now is whether he will make a return to the COSAFA Castle Cup in 2016 when the tournament is staged in Namibia from June 11-25, giving him the chance to win one of the few pieces of silverware that has eluded him.

But if he doesn’t, it will provide the next generation of Zambian stars with the opportunity to use the COSAFA Castle Cup as a springboard to greater heights.

Who knows, we could be looking back in another 13 years and marvelling at the exploits of another Chipolopolo star who broke new ground in 2016 and went on to be a legend for the country.