Sunday, 14 April 2013

Itumeleng Khune: Africa's best goalkeeper pushes Kaizer Chiefs towards the double

Safe hands: Itumeleng Khune

ITUMELENG KHUNE. The name is familiar. The style is impeccable. The distribution is innovative. The hunger is endless.

Voted the best player of the Professional Soccer League’s third quarter this month, Khune – the asthmatic lad from Tshing near Ventersburg – has recovered from the embarrassment of his untimely AFCON celebrations two years ago and a mysterious five-month injury sabbatical to emerge as South Africa’s undisputed No1.

Though the widely-hyped relationship break-up with restyled football analyst Minnie Dlamini has taken its toll, his form on the international and domestic stage has seen talk of an overseas move resurface.

Stuart Baxter, the widely-travelled Englishman in charge of the AmaKhosi’s double crusade, said after Saturday night’s 1-0 Nedbank Cup quarter-final win against Bloemfontein Celtic: “He’s probably the best goalkeeper on the continent right now.

“Naturally I am very pleased with the result and very pleased with the performance of the players. I thought we played quite well in the first half, I thought we defended the box well.

“But Celtic just kept pumping away and you worried at one point that things were going to break in the box, and it did, but when it breaks in the box we have the best goalkeeper probably on the continent so I’m just very happy to have him.”

Khune, still only 25, certainly has what every goalkeeper requires. Safe hands. As the son of a miner in Tshing, just outside Ventersdorp, he was ready to become a cricketer.

One of six children, Khune idolised the South African cricketers – and still enjoys watching the Proteas. He says: “Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener used to be my favourites when I was growing up. Nicky Boje was my idol. As a kid in Ventersdorp we used to have a rubbish bin as the wickets and use a spade as the bat.”

He only chose football at the tender age of 12 when Chiefs came calling in 1999. Khune recalls: “When we were kids we used to gather at a disused hall before classes and kick a tennis ball around. After school it was the same thing.”

Travelling to the Chiefs academy was a problem. He said: “My parents were not happy because I would only arrive home late at night. Sometimes I had to sleep at the train station as I couldn’t get home. There wasn’t food, there wasn’t money, but we had to accept the situation.”

Khune was a defender back then. He did well in trials – chosen as the 32nd best player on the day, that’s still the number he wears - but breathing problems relegated him to ball boy status. And his enthusiastic diving for the loose ball attracted the attention of youth coach Terror Sephoa and Chiefs’ veteran goalkeeper Brian Baloyi “my mentor, on and off the field”.

By 2004, aged 17, he was training with the first team. Three years later, Khune got the nod as Chiefs’ regular No1 when Rowen Fernandez left for Germany’s Arminia Bielefeld and Emile Baron was forced out by injury.

He made his local Premier Soccer League debut against Jomo Cosmos in 2007 and immediately impressed, forcing his way into the national squad where he made his debut against Zimbabwe in 2008.

A broken finger put Khune out for three months in 2010 but World Cup-winning Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira stuck with the lad who famously saved a penalty from David Villa during the 2009 Confederations Cup.

An impressive World Cup was followed by the awful upset of his time-wasting antics during the infamous draw against Sierra Leone at Mbombela when South Africa thought they had qualified for the 2011 African Cup of Nations.

Then came two successive injuries – first his shoulder, then his groin - and Khune literally disappeared from the face of football for months on end with veteran Arthur Bartman unable to maintain the AmaKhosi title challenge in the face of arch-rivals Orlando Pirates, or Drawlando as they are now known.

Having Khune on hand – literally and figuratively – all season has undoubtedly kept Baxter’s bid for both the PSL and Nedbank Cup on the rails.

Though SuperSport youngster Ronwen Williams is also regarded as a serious South African glovemeister for the future , Khune – the Bafana No1 and goalkeeper for the nation’s current form team – looks peerless despite a slightly vampire-tinged aversion to crosses.

Former Liverpool and Holland gloveman Sander Westerveld, the Ajax Cape Town goalkeeper reputed to be the best-paid custodian in the PSL, says: “Khune’s distribution is the best you will see anywhere. He kicks right to the attacker’s feet, wherever they are.

“But he also makes great saves. Against Brazil in Gordon Igesund’s first friendly, he was unbeatable. I don’t know why he is not playing in Europe. Maybe not in England because it is so physical, but he could be playing for Valencia and would not look out of place.”

Khune insists he has not received any written offers from Arsenal, Turkey’s Besiktas or any other foreign club, preferring to concentrate on getting those safe hands on his first ever PSL winners’ medal.

With his team seven points ahead five games from the end of the season, he says: “We know the title can still be lose, that’s why we are not getting carried away. Anything can still happen, but everything is in our control. It’s up to us to secure the title.

“We don’t want to lose it now … we can’t allow that to happen. There’s a saying that it’s hard to get to the top, but it’s easy to fall. We have to keep our focus until the season is over.”

A shorter version of this article will appear as my Neal and Pray column in www.thenewage.co.za this week. You can also see me on eNCSnews (DSTV channel 403, Sky channel 518) talking about the weekend's football tomorrow morning just after 8am.

18 comments:

  1. Khune is the Man, very determined indeed and i wish him all the best on the probable opportunity of playing abroad.

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  2. Decent keeper ... BUT seriously needs to tone down his time-wasting habits. It's starting to look pathetic.

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  3. Top keeper. But remember that it is a HUGE jump from PSL to the Premier League. IF there is interest in Arsenal, he should only go if there is a chance of him being #1 (not very likely IMO) - there's no point moving to warm the bench.

    Personally, I think he should spend a year or 2 at a club like Fulham (Schwarzer might be leaving) or West Ham (Jussi near end of his career) first. The 'bigger' clubs will be much more likely to sign him as a first choice - he will be less of a gamble since he already has PL experience.

    Also, he shouldn't be picky if an English club doesn't come in. If a decent Turkish or Dutch club makes an offer, he should consider it - will likely play Champs League or Europa League and get better exposure.

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  4. Arsenal??? The English club or the Ghanian club?

    Sorry ... but he's simply not Premier League material.
    Belgium, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Holland maybe ... but not first choice for one of the top 5 leagues.

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  5. When did you here of a top Euro club buying a keeper straight out of the Africa?
    Got to agree with 'doughboy', Khune needs to move to one of the smaller clubs first and find his feet.

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  6. Headline is a bit silly: "Africa's best goalkeeper ...."???

    Seriously, on what grounds can you say this??

    Is he better than Vincent Enyeama?
    Is he better than Carlos Kameni?
    Is he better than Boubacar Barry?

    Honestly, I'm a proud supporter of South African footballers, but I feel such a headline is too biased.

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  7. @danger Agree 100% with you. To call Khune "Africa's best" is downright stupid. All he has achieved is domestic success - nothing else. He can only be called "Africa's best" if he can achieve continental success or move on an become a success in a tougher league.

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  8. Drwalando pirates nunus just relax hawo what you know about overseas?when last did a bucownia player go straight from bucs to overseas?when talking about overseas im not talking about mamelodi sundowns just shurrup if you still think khune is to be compared to meyiwa

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  9. @Neal Baba, I read all your posts and I don't often disagree with you. However, you have to admit it is rather biased to call Khune - Africa's best goalkeeper.

    I feel that South Africans as a whole are too generous when giving praise to one of our own.
    Yes - Khune is a top keeper (South Africa's best)
    No - he is not (yet) Africa's best

    We need to be realistic when evaluating players.

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  10. @Anonymous16:29 What do Chiefs know about overseas? How many goals has Musona scored in Germany? How many trials has Shabba failed in England? How many player of the season awards has Nahayo won in Belgium? No one has said that Meyiwa is better than Khune - we saying that he is not Arsenal material or Africa's best keeper. Learn to read comments properly or go and wash taxi's by the market.

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  11. Fucking time wasting cunt. He can piss off to Vietnam or Israel.
    Don't want him at Arsenal.

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  12. Edmond ex shingange16 April 2013 at 05:37

    Looooools kweeeeeee. Neal myt b ryt n wrong. Every1 s entitled 2 hs opin so dat nt a big deal i cn say hw i rate him so y ppl xud wory much. Locally s da best so xud b compared 2 continentaly thn globaly so neal xud hv explaind. Again if arsenal want hm thn let hm go daaaa wth hs head high, nt evry1 wl fail da sme way. Whoever wnt u rate u high. We hv chiefs, bucs n downs hre so hw many plyrs hv thy destroyd thr careers n xud dat mean Khama Billiat nt join dem? Cme on guys adas hv succeeded n became stars da Radebes, shoes, fishs, bartlets, bennis n pinnaar, serero in da makng so u xud also point dat nt only thse hu failed. Keep wel ppl enjy r day.

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  13. Viva Boston Marathon Bomber Viva
    Dead to all the infidels

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  14. king shaka zulu16 April 2013 at 08:43

    @edmond
    I agree everyone is entitled to their opinion and although I don't think Khune would be a success at Arsenal, I would still support him completely.
    As for the others you have mentioned, only Radebe moved straight out of SA to the PL and became a success - Fish joined Bolton (in the 2nd div) from Lazio, Bartlett already had European experience with Zurich, Benni had enough experience at Ajax and Porto.
    My OPINION is that he should move to probably the Dutch, Portuguese or French leagues first, maybe for a season or 2 and then look at a move to one of the giants of the game.

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  15. Few errors in this article:

    1. No such thing as Professional Soccer League.
    2. Stuart Baxter is NOT an Englishman.

    Okay, bye now.

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  16. your ma se cake17 April 2013 at 12:39

    @don 'Research' is not a word in Neal Collins' vocabulary.

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  17. Don, don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia! Baxter born in Wolverhampton, England. His mum Scottish, dad English... never played international football though he did go to Dundee United in Scotland, he never played for the first team. Same passport for both countries, certainly doesn't sound Scottish!

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  18. As for Itu being Africa's best goalkeeper, those are Baxter's words, not mine! I haven't seen enough of football further up the continent to make such a judgement!

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