David Pleat, the 65-year-old footballing icon responsible for taking Bongani Khumalo from Supersports United to Tottenham Hotspur this month, has a word of warning for South Africa’s latest export.
Pleat, who picked out Khumalo’s unruffled defending while working for the BBC during the World Cup and recommended a £1.5m move after a trial period at Spurs in August, said: “Bongani must not try and chase the elusive dream too quickly. He needs to be patient and to take his time settling in.”
With the fate of Spurs’ last South African Mabilelo OJ Mabizela clear in his mind, Pleat told BBC Radio Five Live: “The change in environment and culture is going to massive for him and it is so important that he embraces the club and fellow players fully.”
OJ famously scored on his debut for Spurs in 2004 when Pleat was involved as a caretaker manager at White Hart Lane - but 14 months and just seven games later, he returned home with addiction problems.
Pleat knows Khumalo, who arrived in London on his 24th birthday last week, will be under pressure. Particularly as he will be training at Tottenham’s Chigwell training facility with a certain David Beckham, who passed a medical yesterday and remains keen to play while he is with Harry Redknapp’s squad.
Khumalo started training with the bevy of top coaches, including former Leeds legend Joe Jordan, Kevin Bond, Tim Sherwood and goal-getter Clive Allen, last Friday. His agent Glyn Binkin, who joined Khumalo on the flight to Heathrow, said his man is settling in well and is dealing with one of the coldest winter’s on record in Britain.
With William Gallas, Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong standing in his way, Khumalo may have similar problems. Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate are injured while Younes Kaboul is returning from a three match suspension, making a central-defensive platoon of seven since Khumalo’s arrival on the training ground.
The player himself said on the club’s official website: "All the players are very professional and very good, genuine guys and quality players. I've been very fortunate to just be a part of that and take in the experience so far.
"They've done so well this season and there are quality players all around. I just want to be part of the success.
"I want to win games here, I want to win titles - that's what the game's about. I've been fortunate to experience some success in my career back home lifting trophies and I would like to do the same here. The feeling is addictive.
"It's a higher level, it's not easy but I'm going to give it my best and contribute as best as I can to the team's success."
"I'm looking to learn as fast as I can and do all I can to contribute to this wonderful team.
Pleat, the former Spurs Director of Football famous for his on-field jig when Luton Town avoided relegation in 1983, advises only child Khumalo: “A lot will depend on finding the right kind of friends. He has to do the right things both on and off the field. As you know, there were one or two problems with OJ Mabizela. In the end were too much for us to cope with.
“Football will not take up all your time. In your spare time you must take up an interest, it’s very important
“Whether it’s spending time around London, going to the theatre or whatever, players need to make sure that their mind is motivated and that they’re not bored.”
Pleat has his regrets over the OJ saga. He remembers well the debut goal against Leicester and admits: “We like OJ. He was outstanding in the air. A very forceful play. I think in his case we could have done better for him.
“But we didn’t know enough about his background. If we had then perhaps we could have helped him more. He came over and did well but it was hard for him to get into the first team."