Friday, 29 July 2011

Bongani Khumalo on his Reading debut, life and South Africa's chances in the Africa Cup of Nations

Bongani Khumalo will make his debut for Reading at in a glamour-free pre-season friendly at neighbours Swindon Town tomorrow (Saturday), just a week after appearing for Tottenham Hotspur in their 3-0 Vodacom Challenge win over South African champions Orlando Pirates at Ellis Park.

The 24-year-old Bafana Bafana centreback is on loan at the Championship club and he insists: “Right now I am a Reading player and the only thing I am thinking of is playing well for Reading.”

Khumalo, born in Swaziland and raised in Pretoria, joined Spurs in January for £1.5m after winning three successive South African Premier League titles with SuperSports United.

He has yet to play for Harry Redknapp’s first team apart from his appearances this month in South Africa and was linked to Scottish champions Rangers last month, with the prospect of Champions League football.

But Khumalo, who played six games on loan for relegated Championship club Preston North End last season, yesterday revealed it was Redknapp who persuaded him to stay in England. He told the Reading Post: “Harry talked about how Reading would be a great club to go to. He said I needed more experience.

“I remember seeing Reading when they were in the Premier League and seeing the stadium on TV in South Africa.

“I guess there will be a bit of interest in Reading back home in South Africa now as well.

“My family have been looking into the club and the history at Reading and they are getting themselves up to date with everything.

“Other clubs were mentioned, but as soon as I spoke to Reading there was only one place where I wanted to go. The manager Brian McDermott told me how hungry he was for success. That was a big selling point for me."

Khumalo played against Reading for Preston in a 2-1 defeat at Madejski Stadium last season. Reading went on to reach the play-off final and only missed out on a return to the Premier League after losing 4-2 to Swansea at Wembley.

Khumalo said: “I was impressed with the style of football Reading played and how they passed the ball around.

“The team seemed to have a very positive approach and that’s why they managed to get to the play-offs.

“I only met the rest of the guys yesterday for the first time on the way to Bristol Rovers and they were all very nice. At this moment I’m not even thinking about a permanent deal at Reading. It’s very early days.”

Khumalo, under the terms of his loan agreement, could be recalled by Spurs in January. With the veteran William Gallas and injury-prone Ledley King among their centre-backs, he may be needed to supplement a defence which also includes Younes Kaboul and England regular Michael Dawson.

But with South Africa currently topping their qualification group, Khumalo’s season is likely to be interrupted by the Africa Cup of Nations which will he held from January 21 to February 12 in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Khumalo added: “South Africa haven’t done too well in the Africa Cup of Nations for some time, so it would be fantastic to win it.

“Off the back of the World Cup I think we have improved and playing for South Africa feels like playing for a club nowadays.

“We have a lot of promising young players coming through and being part of that is something that I take great pride in.”

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