Bongani Khumalo is all fired up for his League debut for Reading on Saturday – against Millwall at the Madejski Stadium.
Bafana Bafana defender Bongani Khumalo – sent out on a season-long loan from Tottenham Hotspur after the Vodacom Challenge barely a week ago – played his first game in the blue-and-white hoops of the Royals in a 2-1 pre-season friendly win at neighbours Swindon Town on Saturday and immediately turned his attention to the opening Championship showdown.
It was against Millwall – the “Lions” who have a reputation as the nastiest team in the EastEnd of London – that Khumalo injured his metatarsal while loan at doomed Preston North End last season.
The Swaziland-born, Pretoria-raised 24-year-old says: "Millwall? It's a sweet start – Preston v Millwall was my last game in the Championship after my foot injury, so I'm looking forward to it. I'll be really fired up for the Lions!”
Though South African observers expressed doubt over their world-class defender going on loan to another second-tier club in England, Khumalo insists he has made the right decision.
Khumalo has played at the Madejski Stadium, just off the M4 40 miles west of London, before – when Preston were crushed 2-1 by play-off bound Reading last season.
He recalls: "It was a tough game, I remember thinking the football here is very good - the players were quick, strong and very direct - as a defender it was a busy night!
"I just got a great feeling from the club after coming here with Preston and it just felt right. I spoke with the manager Brian McDermott and I was very impressed with his plans for the season, so after that there was really only one option."
Though he was also linked to Scottish champions Rangers, Khumalo says of Reading, who reached the play-off final before losing to Swindon Town last season: "It's amazing and an unbelievable setup here. Everyone's very friendly and I'm looking forward to getting the season off to a good start. I’ve always wanted to play in England, it’s great, a wonderful opportunity.
"I just want to be the best possible player I can be for this club. I want to grow as a person as well as a footballer. It's been magic so far (since his £1.5m move from then-South African champions Supersports United in January) and I have learnt a lot."