Great foreign footballers in Mzansi
Footballers from different corners of Africa have enriched the experience of South African football fans for decades. Here are six of the best to grace the local game during the past three decades.
Malawian midfielder Ernest Mtawali (Chirwali) is one of the greatest footballers to play in South Africa, foreign or local-born. He was Player of the Season in 1985 as a young midfielder at Bloemfontein Celtic when the club won the Mainstay Cup in 1985 and he was still a key player during Mamelodi Sundowns' 1993 NSL title win – his second championship win with the Brazilians. Incredibly, Mtawali still had enough in his tank in 2000, when he joined Orlando Pirates and helped them win the PSL when in his mid-30s.
Williams Okpara was Orlando Pirates' best goalkeeper during the 1990s, and was still on the club's books as a player during the first few seasons of this century. He played 375 matches for the Buccaneers and is now employed in the club administration. Okpara is best remembered as the hero of Abidjan – the last line of defence as Pirates held out to beat ASEC Mimosas 1-0 and clinch the African Champions Cup 3-2 on aggregate in 1995. Many men in Black and white were heroes that day, but the goalie stood head and shoulders above the rest, facing down 27 shots from the Ivorian side.
Wilfred Mugeyi is one of the greatest foreigners to play in South Africa, and almost certainly the best to have not played for any of the country's 'Big Three' of Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns. Arriving in this country in 1993 along with twin brother William (a left back), the Zimbabwean striker made an instant impact at Umtata Bush Bucks, and was among the goals as Imbabala beat Hellenic 3-1 in the Coca-Cola Cup Final that year. Three years later, the 'Silver Fox' scored the decisive goal as Bush Bucks again won the Coke Cup, beating QwaQwa Stars in a replay. That season, he scored 23 League goals and was the 1996/97 PSL Footballer of the Year and Players' Player of the Year. He scored in the region of 100 goals in over 200 appearances for Bush Bucks.
Roger Feutmba was already veteran when he joined Mamelodi Sundowns in 1997, but for the next three seasons, he was one of the finest midfielders in the Premier Soccer League. Nicknamed 'The General', Feutmba was the fulcrum of the brilliant side that won three Premierships in a row between 1998 and 2000. He had been a member of the Cameroon squad that surprised the world at the 1990 World Cup, and played professionally for Kortrijk in Belgium, and if he was not so one-footed, Feutmba might have been a greater star in the northern hemisphere. But that magic left foot of his was enough to guarantee that no other midfielder could live with him during Sundowns finest era.
Raphael Chukwu arrived in South Africa from Nigeria an unknown, just another burly centre forward. He soon made that big, bustling presence felt, and by the end of his second year in the PSL, Chukwu was Player of the Season and Sundowns the 1997/98 champions. They finished the next season as champions again. The 'Chukwu Train' was unstoppable, scoring at a rate of better than a goal every two games and only a move abroad, to Italy gave local defences some respite. But he was back in 2000/01 to terrorize defences them one more time; signing off with a grand total of 63 goals in 124 PSL games, plus many more in cup competitions.
Collins Mbesuma holds a record that will take some beating, considering the goal-rate of the current crop of Premier League strikers – in 2004/05 the burly Zambian scored 25 League goals for Kaizer Chiefs, and a further 10 in various cup competitions. Needless to say, Mbesuma was named PSL Player of the Season and Chiefs were League champions; their second title in succession. 'Ntofontofo' also scored the only goal of the game as Chiefs beat SuperSport United 1-0 in that season's Coca-Cola Cup Final. Mbesuma was at Amakhosi for just two seasons, but his impact was unforgettable.
By Richard Maguire