Tuesday, 28 April 2015

From pillar to far post: South Africa's No 1 Itumeleng Khune deserves better

FINE LINE: Khune sees red against AmaZulu
ITUMELENG KHUNE is not your average PSL journeyman. In South Africa, his status rarely falls below legendary and his consistency matches goalkeepers in leagues of a far higher standard than our local mish-mash of dwindling attendances, dodgy referees and 11-goal top-scorers.

In short, Khune is a treasure. Our Gerrard, our Lahm. With 62 caps for his country and a second PSL winners’ medal under his belt after Kaizer Chiefs romp to the championship last week, the 27-year-old might be forgiven for thinking he’s a vital part of the fabric of our game.

Apparently not.

Sadly, this year he has been harassed from pillar to goal-post in a series of quite unbelievable snubs and let-downs for one of South Africa’s top celebrities.

It started last year with SAFA issuing misinformation about the heel injury he sustained on a rock-hard Marks Park pitch when he turned up for Shakes Mashaba’s first Bafana Bafana camp. While SAFA claimed he turned up carrying the injury, coach Stuart Baxter was fuming, believe me.

Weeks in a moon boot followed but by the time the AFCON squad was named at the end of December, Khune found himself on the bench behind Brilliant Khuzwayo, waiting for his first team return. He was fit and ready to join the Bafana camp. Yet Khuzwayo was picked for AFCON, captain Khune was not required.

There is no explanation for that blunder. Khune turned out for Chiefs in the friendly 1-0 defeat against Hoffenheim and looked sharp at home, while in Equatorial Guinea Mashaba changed goalkeepers three times in three winless games before coming home with the worst defensive record of the tournament.

At home, Khune forced his way back in to the Kaizer Chiefs starting line-up – some might say he halted the traditional New Year slump at Naturena – before his red card in the 1-0 win over AmaZulu earlier this month.

Though I reckon he deserved to be sent off, Khune tweeted afterwards: “Its about time action is taken against this referees. They've been very poor since beginning of the season.”

He sent me this when I asked him if time-wasting had been part of his referee rant: “But I did nothing wrong. You guys need to take action against this poor referees.” There have been direct messages since, but those must remain private.

The PSL finally responded over the weekend, despite an abject apology, releasing this statement: “Mr. Khune was found guilty of bringing the League into disrepute by reason of statements made on social network Twitter. Mr. Khune was fined R50 000.00 of which R25 000.00 was suspended for 12 months on condition that he was not found guilty of a similar offence during the period of suspension. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the sitting of the Disciplinary Committee.”

With football manager Bobby Motaung and coach Stuart Baxter also fined, Khune did well to stay of twitter after this particular injustice. And it IS an injustice. Controversial, yes, like Mario Balotelli, but much needed in our game. We NEED our star players to have the guts to tell it like it is with a football writing fraternity far too ready to say YES to the authorities. Why punish him for his opinions?

Consider this: no footballer in South Africa has EVER been fined for social networking before. Why Khune? Why start now? Where is “thou shalt not tweet” in the list of top secret PSL commandments.

Remember, in February, when Orlando Pirates striker Lehlohonolo Majoro stamped on a player and had to be restrained by team-mates from attacking the referee against Platinum Stars, no action was taken by the “independent” Disciplinary Committee.

Effectively, the PSL are issuing a message to young players that goes along the lines of: “Violent conduct is fine, just don’t tweet your feelings.”

And on top of all this, with the nation watching every lick and spit of his rocky relationship with TV presenter Minnie Dlamini, over the weekend Khune found himself subjected to further headlines in the Sunday World, suggesting Bobby Motaung had told him not to celebrate with his AmaKhosi team-mates after the title-clinching 4-1 win against Polokwane City last week.

It has been a dreadful year for South Africa’s finest footballer over the last five years. In January, Bobby Motaung was quoted as saying the new contract would be signed “by the end of the week” instead he has quibbled and haggled with Khune’s England-based agents, who are seeking a lucrative deal including image rights and European-style bonuses.

So after fighting back from injury and dismissal and losing the captain's armband, after struggling through a very public relationship break-up and STILL helping his side to the championship with a series of vital clean sheets, Khune finds himself without a clear future, hoping somebody will rescue a stellar career.

But there is another option. Bobby Motaung, accused of all sorts of things by a “stalker” over the weekend, could relent and recognise the truth. Bobby has coach Baxter on the brink. He treated Jimmy Tau with incredible insensitivity. He was economical with the truth about Kingston Nkhatha's departure. It’s about time Bobby played the big man.

Itumeleng Khune MUST STAY. There’s still time for Bobby to change personality, ignore his own pocket for once. Show some loyalty. Push out the boat for a loyal servant. But I won’t be holding my breath.

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