BONGANI KHUMALO is due to make his English League debut for rock-bottom Championship club Preston North End against Swansea at Deepdale on Saturday after finally accepting a Beckhamesque loan deal on his road to stardom.
Khumalo, who moved from South African champions SuperSports United to Tottenham Hotspur for £1.5m in the January transfer window, has yet to make an appearance for Harry Redknapp’s side. Like David Beckham in his early days at Manchester United in 1994, Khumalo has gone to Preston, England’s first ever League champions, to earn his Spurs.
Beckham, then 19, played five games for Preston in 1995, scoring twice and establishing himself as a future star. Preston boss Phil Brown revealed he sent an email to Redknapp a month ago suggesting the move, which Brown describes as a "massive favour".
Brown added on the club’s website: "I am absolutely delighted. Hopefully Khumalo will be a massive success here.”
Ironically both Preston and Spurs share the nickname Lilywhites, though their fortunes have differed mightily in recent years. After a strong performance in Bafana Bafana’s historic 1-0 win over Egypt on Saturday night, Khumalo’s “loan ranger” deal – which last until the end of the season - was announced before Spurs confirmed rival centre-half William Gallas had signed a two-year contract extension at White Hart Lane.
The Gallas decision – he will now stay at the club until 2013 - means the veteran former Arsenal and Chelsea Frenchman is one of SIX centre-backs ahead of Khumalo in the pecking order as Tottenham continue their Champions League quest. Former England defender Jonathan Woodgate is currently injured (again), but Redknapp can also call upon compatriots Sebastien Bassong, Younes Kaboul, England centre-back Michael Dawson and the experienced Ledley King, who is approaching full fitness after months of struggling with his incurable knee problems.
Khumalo was always expected to go out on loan to a smaller club, but early appearances on the bench for the first team during a defensive injury mini-crisis meant the decision to farm him out to Brown’s Preston was delayed until the loan window closed last Thursday.
Steve Caulker, the 19-year-old Spurs central defender competing with Khumalo for a future at Spurs, has been loaned out twice in recent years, playing 44 games for Yeovil in 2008/09 and 29 for Bristol City this season.
Khumalo performed admirably in South Africa’s last-gasp 1-0 win over African champions Egypt at Ellis Park last Saturday next to his old SuperSports partner Morgan Gould, who was voted Man of the Match.
The move came outside the January transfer window because clubs below the English Premier League are allowed to take players on loan from 8 February until 24 March. Fellow Bafana Bafana international Kagisho Dikgacoi's loan move from Fulham to Crystal Palace also went through during the loan window, though Khumalo’s was completed just before the 5pm deadline last Thursday.
Preston’s Deepdale ground in Lancashire is one of the historic bastions of English football - the club were one of the founder members of the Football League back in 1888. They became the first winners of the League and FA Cup double that season when they were unbeaten and didn’t concede a single goal in either competition. They also won the League the next year, in 1890. Their last major trophy was the FA Cup in 1938. They haven’t been in the top flight of English football since 1961, though they did reach the Championship play-offs in 2009.
Khumalo, the Swaziland-born 24-year-old from Pretoria, is expected to make his debut against third-placed Swansea on Saturday. Preston, a city of around 115,000, was a post-industrial revolution boom town but is a long way from the Jacaranda City or Tottenham, where he enjoyed the company of compatriot Steven Pienaar.
Though they are currently bottom of the Championship, Preston have enjoyed a bit of a revival of late, beating fellow strugglers Scunthorpe 3-0 away and Coventry 2-1 at home in their last game on March 19 in front of 12,269 at Deepdale, their home since 1875 with a capacity of around 22,000. They are now just three points adrift of Scunthorpe at the foot of the Championship.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.