Bongani Khumalo’s topsy-turvy football career as Tottenham’s “loan ranger” has become a case of Reading between the lines. Careful, that’s Reading, not reading.
It was the Royals coach Brian McDermott, questioned by the local Reading Post newspaper, who gave us a nudge and a wink towards the former SuperSports United captain’s future destination this weekend.
While Khumalo was helping Tottenham Hotspur win the Vodacom Challenge Final with an emphatic 3-0 over Orlando Pirates at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, his future Championship team-mates were winning by an identical score-line at Northampton Town’s less impressive Sixfields.
After the game former Arsenal midfielder McDermott, the 50-year-old Reading boss renowned for unearthing young talent at the Madejski Stadium, was asked about South Africa’s 24-year-old centre-back Khumalo and grinned: “He’s a player I know well.”
Thousands of miles south in Johannesburg, Spurs boss Harry Redknapp confirmed Khumalo would be headed 40 miles west to Reading, despite offering the Bafana Bafana defender to Scottish champions Rangers on loan three weeks ago.
Redknapp, who hates being described as a wheeler-dealer, said: “Look, Bongani lacks experience, this is only his first year in England. I have experienced central defenders like Ledley King, William Gallas, Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul and Sebastien Bassong.
“So it looks like this loan move to Reading will happen. We have the option of a recall in January, but it will be a good move for him. He’s a good lad.
“It will be difficult for him to get into the team here. He will be much better off going out on loan to gain experience and adapt to the lifestyle in England.
“I’m sure in a year he will come back a better player. Then it will be up to him to prove whether he is good enough to start for Spurs.”
Khumalo was subjected to a similar set of quotes last season, when he was farmed out to doomed Championship club Preston North End after failing to break in to the first team after his £1.5m move from Pretoria in January. He managed six games before suffering a metatarsal injury. Preston were relegated but their former Hull City boss Phil Brown did laud some of his performances as “outstanding”.
The word from Reading is there are a few loose ends to be tied up. They will have to pay Khumalo's salary, as is the tradition with loan moves. Khumalo’s agent Glyn Binkin appeared keen on the move to Glasgow and possible Champions League football under new Rangers boss Ally McCoist. But the switch to Reading will mean significantly less unheaval – and a gentler path to regular English football for Khumalo, often hailed as “the new Lucas Radebe”.
Unless there is a last-minute hitch, Khumalo will return to train not with Spurs but Reading this week but he had this parting message for his homeland: “I get a lot of love from the people of this wonderful country and I’m grateful for that.”