|Remember me? Itumeleng Khune, SA's No1|
While all eyes in South African football were on last night’s Telkom Knock-out final which saw Orlando Pirates crush Wits 3-1 (Daine Klate, Port Elizabeth's greatest footballing export, take a bow), rival Kaizer Chiefs fans have spent recent weeks – no, months - wondering what has happened to Khune, South Africa’s first choice goalkeeper during the World Cup here last year. Brilliant reflex keeper, superb distributor, wanted by Nottingham Forest last I heard.
But he's gone. Vanished off the face of the earth. If you're out there mate, email me: email@example.com. No questions asked.
In a nation which boasts, according to marketing estimates, 14 million ardent Amakhosi fans, the gold-and-black brand has been having serious problems. A storm over Jimmy Tau’s captaincy was followed by accusations of nepotism against Kaizer Motaung’s family-run business. And then Khune went AWOL days after being castigated for wasting time in South Africa’s catastrophic 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone on October 8, at around the same time the Amakhosi's general manager Bobby "CV" Motuang was announcing him as their new captain.
Roused by a squeaky 1-0 win over Mamelodi Sundowns last Sunday, head coach Vladimir Vermezovic is only too aware how much his side needs a consistent No1.
Last week at Loftus Versfeld, that man was Arthur Bartman, a 39-year-old journeyman whose career started at African Wanderers way back in 1995. Man of the match for a series of astounding saves, Vermezovic claimed Bartman was in discussions with Chiefs over a new contract.
Worryingly, that’s the first Bartman had heard of those talks, though he's now apparently considering signing on for another season.
So while VV, under huge pressure before last week’s win over a Sundowns side hunting top spot, promises: “We will go all out for the title,” discriminating Amakhosi fans are more worried about the sudden disappearance of Khune, the darling of Naturena as any regular reader of Twitter will attest (does SABC's model presenter @MinnieDlamini know where he is?).
With Chiefs currently fourth in the SAPL with 24 points from 14 games, VV said: “It is our main goal to win the title this season. It is not good for a big club like Chiefs to not have won the title for such a long time. We have made this our main objective this season.”
Of course they have. But while VV told the fans “I want to thank them for being our 12th player” concerns over Khune grow before the gold-and-black striped “Zebras” conclude their year against Free State Stars at Soccer City and AmaZulu in Durban.
All that is known is this. Khune was reported to have gone down with pneumonia on or about October 10, while questions over Bafana’s farcical failure to reach the African Nations Cup finals were still raging across the nation. Our last view of the mineworker’s son from Tshing near Ventersdorp was that sad dance the players engaged in, when SAFA still thought their boys had qualified for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next year.
Then, over a month later, we were told Khune, the 24-year-old who grew up idolising South Africa’s cricketers, had a groin strain. In British football, a “groin strain” is often a spurious injury invented to hide deeper concerns over a player’s future. There was talk of an operation and a further two month hiatus.
As the mysterious disappearance deepened, the club released a statement on Khune last week – and claim he will be back in action some time in Febuary.
They do not mention whether he had surgery on that groin and quote him as saying: "I'm recovering well from my injury. I'm getting there. It is frustrating, but I guess each and every player has to go through this in his career at some point.
"I will be back sometime in February. In fact, I will return early in January to start training on my own and then join the rest of the team in February.”
And, apart from revealing both Khune and Siphiwe Tshabalala are currently negotiating new contracts, that’s it. Did they speak to him in person, or did Chiefs release a statement to ease concerns over their goalkeeper? And if he's fine, why are they thinking of adding 23-year-old goalkeeper Carl Bauerrichter to a well-stocked glove compartment which already includes Kabelo Metsimetsi, Thela Ngobeni and Bartman (who is still mulling over that new contract)?
Either way, four sentences are not really enough to explain a five-month absence of South Africa's finest goalkeeper in my book. But get well soon, Itumeleng. The 14 million Amakhosi need you.
This story appeared in the exciting new Sunday newspaper Scoop! in South Africa yesterday. Have a look at www.scoopnews.co.za. And buy it every week.