In their heyday, with fans screaming their names in packed-out stadiums, three former internationals would vacillate between banging in goals and delivering bone-crunching tackles with the precision of prima ballerinas.

Those days are fading, but the skills and technique developed over a lifetime of football has now placed these three former foes at the heart of newly promoted National First Division (NFD) side Maccabi FC.

Mbesuma during the Kaizer Chiefs days
Former Kaizer Chiefs star striker Collins Mbesuma (34), former Orlando Pirates dribbling wizard Lebogang “Cheese Boy” Mokoena (32) and former Jomo Cosmos no-nonsense centre back Thapelo Tshilo (33) are adding value with their vast experience to the NFD newbies. Their contribution influenced the team’s performance in recent weeks.

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Ironically, these three stalwarts are being coached by a man they hated playing against — former Jomo Cosmos and Kaizer Chiefs defender Mokete Tsotetsi, a man Mokoena and Mbesuma still bemoan as the “roughest and dirtiest” defender they ever had to deal with.

Mbesuma, a Zambian international, is still hailed as the player with the most goals in a season, after scoring 35 goals for Chiefs back in 2004, helping the Glamour Boys to win the league title for the first time in 12 years.

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On top of Mbesuma’s record of 35 goals, he also still holds the title of being the only player in the PSL to have top-scored twice, after hitting 14 goals while still with Highlands Park two seasons ago.

“After that I got injured. I don’t think I was given enough chance to recover and I left the club on my own accord because I wanted to recover fully. So I opted to sign with Maccabi, who were playing in the [third-tier] ABC Motsepe League at the time,” he recalls.

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PSL clubs such as Bloemfontein Celtic were believed to be after his services, but the need to be closer to his family in Gauteng forced him to settle for the lower leagues. His experience would play a critical role in helping the team to gain promotion to the NFD.

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