Friday, 29 July 2011

Bongani Khumalo on his Reading debut, life and South Africa's chances in the Africa Cup of Nations

Bongani Khumalo will make his debut for Reading at in a glamour-free pre-season friendly at neighbours Swindon Town tomorrow (Saturday), just a week after appearing for Tottenham Hotspur in their 3-0 Vodacom Challenge win over South African champions Orlando Pirates at Ellis Park.

The 24-year-old Bafana Bafana centreback is on loan at the Championship club and he insists: “Right now I am a Reading player and the only thing I am thinking of is playing well for Reading.”

Khumalo, born in Swaziland and raised in Pretoria, joined Spurs in January for £1.5m after winning three successive South African Premier League titles with SuperSports United.

He has yet to play for Harry Redknapp’s first team apart from his appearances this month in South Africa and was linked to Scottish champions Rangers last month, with the prospect of Champions League football.

But Khumalo, who played six games on loan for relegated Championship club Preston North End last season, yesterday revealed it was Redknapp who persuaded him to stay in England. He told the Reading Post: “Harry talked about how Reading would be a great club to go to. He said I needed more experience.

“I remember seeing Reading when they were in the Premier League and seeing the stadium on TV in South Africa.

“I guess there will be a bit of interest in Reading back home in South Africa now as well.

“My family have been looking into the club and the history at Reading and they are getting themselves up to date with everything.

“Other clubs were mentioned, but as soon as I spoke to Reading there was only one place where I wanted to go. The manager Brian McDermott told me how hungry he was for success. That was a big selling point for me."

Khumalo played against Reading for Preston in a 2-1 defeat at Madejski Stadium last season. Reading went on to reach the play-off final and only missed out on a return to the Premier League after losing 4-2 to Swansea at Wembley.

Khumalo said: “I was impressed with the style of football Reading played and how they passed the ball around.

“The team seemed to have a very positive approach and that’s why they managed to get to the play-offs.

“I only met the rest of the guys yesterday for the first time on the way to Bristol Rovers and they were all very nice. At this moment I’m not even thinking about a permanent deal at Reading. It’s very early days.”

Khumalo, under the terms of his loan agreement, could be recalled by Spurs in January. With the veteran William Gallas and injury-prone Ledley King among their centre-backs, he may be needed to supplement a defence which also includes Younes Kaboul and England regular Michael Dawson.

But with South Africa currently topping their qualification group, Khumalo’s season is likely to be interrupted by the Africa Cup of Nations which will he held from January 21 to February 12 in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Khumalo added: “South Africa haven’t done too well in the Africa Cup of Nations for some time, so it would be fantastic to win it.

“Off the back of the World Cup I think we have improved and playing for South Africa feels like playing for a club nowadays.

“We have a lot of promising young players coming through and being part of that is something that I take great pride in.”

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Katlego "Killer" Mphela sweats over verdict after Celtic trial

Katlego Mphela’s future in Europe will be decided today after the South African striker’s 45-minute appearance for Celtic in their 2-0 friendly defeat against Wolves in Glasgow on Wednesday night.

The 26-year-old “Killer” from Brits may have produced the last-gasp goal for South Africa which defeated mighty Egypt last month but he was unable to score for the Bhoys, having his only real chance - a header - well-saved by Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy.

The Mamelodi Sundowns striker, ending a five-day trial at at Parkhead, was replaced at the half-time by fellow triallist Milos Lacny from Slovakia.

Mphela has scored 19 goals in 40 appearances for South Africa while Lacny, 23, has yet to play a full international for his country and the Sparta Prague striker is on a second trial with Celtic.

Boss Neil Lennon said of his experimental Celtic side, showing 11 changes from the team that won their Scottish Premier League opener against Hibernian 2-0 on Saturday: "They did okay. It was difficult for them, to get 45 minutes and they’ve not really played that much with the other players before.

"Mphela was unlucky with a header and Lacny had a couple of chances, so they showed bits and pieces.

"We will speak to them over the next couple of days, probably before we go to Dublin (for two further friendlies this weekend).

"I will probably not make a decision until tomorrow. I can't give you an answer tonight, we will talk about it tomorrow.”

Mphela, who spent two goalless seasons at French clubs RC Strasbourg and Stade Rheims from 2004-2006 after starting his goal-happy career at Arcadia and Jomo Cosmos, had hoped to grab his second chance in Europe with a bang after Sundowns turned down an offer for his services from Israel’s Maccabi Haifa.

Before he left for his Celtic trial, Mphela said of his spell in France: "It's a different story now. Back then, I was still only 18 or 19 and it was hard to adjust and I ended up coming home.

"But I think that has helped me in the long run because I am now a regular for my country and have played in all these big competitions like the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. I'm pleased that things have gone well but now I want to go back to Europe and prove myself."

Jamie O'Hara's free-kick after 28 minutes gave Wolves a first-half lead before a 72nd minute own goal by Hoops second-half substitute Filip Twardzik wrapped it up.

On Celtic’s official Facebook page, only one fan (if you discount excited South Africans) commented on Mphela’s performance, saying: “Why do we have fans slagging off the team after a pre-season friendly? The team was full of triallists and fringe players. Mphela looks sharp so i think we should sell (Irish striker Daryl) Murphy.”

While FC Twente’s Bernard Parker – Mphela’s Bafana Bafana striking partner - signed a two-year deal to return to South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs yesterday, hours after the Amakhosi’s Zimbabwean top-scorer Knowledge Musona agreed a five-year contract with German club Hoffenheim.

Benni McCarthy, the 33-year-old Bafana Bafana top scorer who is clubless after being released by West Ham, continues to be linked with champions Orlando Pirates though a move to Ajax Cape Town, where he is currently training, may still be on the cards. He is quoted as saying: “My mom is here in Cape Town and that’s probably the biggest thing in my head. I’ve been away 15 years, which is almost half my life.”

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Benni's bombshell: "I want to win the Champions League with Orlando Pirates"

Benni McCarthy has set himself one final target after 16 gruelling years of professional football – he wants to become the first man to win both the European and African Champions League trophies.

And to do that of course, the 33-year-old will simply have to join South African champions Orlando Pirates .

McCarthy famously came on in the 78th minute of the 2004 Champions League final to help Jose Mourinho’s Porto defeat Monaco 3-0 at Arena AufSchalke in Germany after scoring twice against Manchester United during qualifying.

Since then McCarthy has suffered mixed fortunes – he scored 37 goals in 109 games for Blackburn Rovers before his well-documented weight problems in a goal-free year at West Ham in 2010.

Released by the Hammers earlier this year amid a plethora of “fat chance” headlines, McCarthy – who failed to make South Africa’s World Cup squad last year - is currently out of contract and training with Ajax in Cape Town.

And despite noises about a permanent move back to the Mother City where he was born in 1977, McCarthy said yesterday: "Pirates are talking about winning the African Champions League – I could become the first player to win the Champions League in Europe and in Africa. That would be a very special record.

. "I don't really see myself starting all over again in another country. I've moved around enough.

"As a kid, growing up playing football, you always wanted to play for Kaizer Chiefs or Pirates; you wanted to play in that big Soweto derby.

"Me, I wanted to play for Chiefs, but really, Chiefs or Pirates, that was the dream. They are like Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; every kid's dream.

"I feel a lot for Ajax, of course, but I'm not sure of their ambitions on the pitch – what they are saying to me is more about attracting more fans. I'm still ambitious to win more trophies.”

Pirates chairman Irvin “Iron Duke” Khoza and his new Brazilian boss Jusio Cesar Leal are apparently interested in the man who has played over 500 games at the top level, scoring nearly 200 goals, including a record 31 in 79 games for Bafana Bafana.

Even Ajax chief exec George Comitis said: "I know Irvin has been on to Benni’s agent – Benni told me that himself – but I don't know how serious they are."

McCarthy’s agent Rob Moore had been looking for an American or Arabic retirement home for his iconic striker – but McCarthy admitted last week: "I’ve played abroad and I think what I learned over there I can give back and inspire some of the younger kids to see a different side to life.

“If Benni comes home and I make a good living for myself… I live alright… maybe that’s what every kid from the street would want to have.

“I got distracted at West Ham but I’m starting to get the love back for football.”

Last night Pirates official Floyd Mbele was quoted as saying he was “unaware of any interest” in McCarthy, who will be available for free after a reported £1.5m pay-out terminated his West Ham nightmare.

Comitis refused to accept McCarthy isn't tempted by his former club Ajax, last season’s unlucky SAPL runners-up, adding: "I know Benni really wants to be with us, here at home in Cape Town, despite all the talk about winning another Champions League."

And McCarthy insists big-spending Mamelodi Sundowns, under new Dutch megastar Johan Neeskens, are “still sniffing” too.

But what about the fines for being fat at West Ham? The headlines which surrounded his torrid year in London’s East End? He grins: “I’ve been working. Changed my life, started to live healthier, looked after myself a bit more because I realised the healthier you are, the longer you live. I want to live to see my kids have kids one day; so that just made me change certain ways of my life and hopefully I can maintain and achieve my goals.

“It all depends on what my legs say. At the moment, I can still juggle it, I can still keep up with the younger boys so I don’t see any point for me yet to throw in the towel.

“When you start having kids your life changes, you can’t be an irresponsible, stupid little boy anymore.”

Monday, 25 July 2011

Put the knitting away dear, it's nearly time for football... and plenty of needle!

Right, put the knitting away dear, turn off the Bold and the Beautiful... the football season is nearly upon us.

But my, how different things look since the end of last term, when Orlando Pirates, managed by Ruud Krol, saw off Ajax Cape Town, led by Foppe de Haan, and Ian Gorowa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.

Now of course, we’ve got Julio Cesar Jeal, Maarten Stekelenburg and the world-famous Dutchman Johan Neeskens in charge with Kaizer Chiefs boss Vladimir Vermezovic the only surviving manager in the top four. Incredible. Krol gone after winning just about everything. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger never suffer such insecurity.

But as we will find out at Soccer City on Saturday when Chiefs play Pirates yet again, some new-fangled money-maker called the Black Label Cup, there’ve been a few personnel changes among South Africa’s top teams too.

Most important departure? That could turn out to be South African Premier League top-scorer Knowledge Musona if his move from Kaizer Chiefs to Hoffenheim in Germany finally works out.

Otherwise, Ajax have lost the most significant player in their armoury – and the man voted South Africa’s finest last season – Thulani Serero. He is currently receiving rave reviews after a goalscoring debut at Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena last week.

There are others who could yet move before the European transfer window slams shut. Siphiwe Tshabala could still leave Chiefs after reported interest from Nottingham Forest’s new boss Steve McClaren failed to materialise. Morgan Gould, mysteriously rejected by Crystal Palace, may yet find another lucrative route out of Supersports United. Sundowns’ wantaway striker Katlego “Killer” Mphela is currently on trial with Scottish giants Celtic.

But South Africans worried about the exodus of top talent should not be overly concerned. With the big shake-up at treble-winning Pirates comes new blood.

The most impressive of those? Siyabonga Sangweni, 28, from Golden Arrows who looked solid at centreback during the Vodacom Cup, closely followed by young winger Sameehg Doutie from Ajax Cape Town and Namibian netbuster Rudolf Bester from Martizburg United.

Chiefs, clearly worried about the possible departure of Musona to Hoffenheim or the newly-interested Celtic, have picked up the man who finished behind him in the SAPL top-scorers’ race last year, Lehlohonolo Majoro from Amazulu. The 24-year-old spiky-haired firebrand from Ladybrand was highly impressive in the Amakhosi’s sparkling 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the opening game of the Vodacom challenge and looks a great buy.

At the back, where Chiefs needed a bit of work, Vlad the Impaler has speared Wits University’s teak-tough Tefu Mashamaite to shore up the centre and pointedly signed Keegan Richie from Moroka Swallows to replace left back Punch Masanamela, who left for apparently greener pastures at Sundowns’ HM Pitje Stadium.

Punch should prove a hit for South Africa’s so-called Brazilians and the much-hyped Neeskens, but his move may be overshadowed by the arrival of Gbolohan Salami. Little is known of the 20-year-old from Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars but early reports suggest an “old-fashioned centre-forward” with bulk and brawn. Might be a handful.

Uganda goalkeeper Dennis Onyango is training with Sundowns and the word is former Orlando Pirates sensation Teko Modise has recaptured some of his old sparkle under Neeskens.

It’s Ajax you have to worry about. Always destined to be a bit of a selling club, the Amsterdam-based franchise has added Serero to a list of top quality graduates which features such luminaries as Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy.

With De Haan finally retired and back in Europe, the untried Stekelenburg has a real job on his hands to keep the Mother City in the Championship chase again this season. No obvious replacement for Serero or Doutie has been purchased, though they have a queue of young talent eager to break through while Cole Alexander and Aiden Jenniker are both back from loan spells.

In goal, where some suggest the now-retired veteran Hans Vonk handed over the title to Pirates on the last day of the season, Stekelenburg has poached former Liverpool gloveman Sander Westerveld from Italian club Monza.

Still, Stekelenburg, who lists Pienaar and Spurs team-mate Rafael van der Vaart among his successes as a youth coach in Amsterdam, argues: “Foppe was very experienced, I’m very young. He was quiet and within himself, I’m a bit of an extrovert.

“But I’ll play the same 4-3-3 format, possession football. This club has finished second three times in the South African Premier League, so this is a huge opportunity for me.

“Serero is a special talent, you can’t really replace him. But I must try to find somebody who can play in his position in a different way.

“Sometimes a bit of arrogance is good, be humble off the field but take the lead on it. I’m confidence I can do the job.”

Just as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City are expected to dominate the English Premier League this season, so Pirates, Chiefs, Sundowns and Ajax are expected to remain the top four in South Africa.

But if Liverpool and Spurs are pushing for those Champions League places in England, who can we pull out of the hat to challenge the top four in South Africa?

The season-opening MTN8 competition will throw some of those contenders in to the fray, with Santos, Bloemfontein Celtic and Wits hoping to conjure a lucrative early boost to their challenge against Pirates, Sundowns and Chiefs respectively.

But for me it’s Supersports United – drawn against Ajax in the MTN8 - who may be the side to watch after finishing a disappointing eighth last season. The Pretoria-based side have persuaded Gavin Hunt to stay in charge and will be hoping for a return to the sort of form they showed winning three successive titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They’ve signed a dozen new players and Nasief Morris, 29, after a European career which took in Greece, Cyprus and Spain. If captain and lynchpin Gould doesn’t complete his dream move to Europe, they should be there or thereabouts.

Hunt, perhaps still paying for the £1.5m departure of Bongani Khumalo from the Matsatsantsa in January, admits: "It was a big comedown last season. But that's history. We are currently rebuilding, we’ve made massive changes,with 13 new players.

"I'm confident in our new recruits who will bring both experience and youth to the side. But there's no pressure. We'll just take it one game at a time."

Bet we’ll hear that phrase used again over the next ten months.

MTN8 opening fixtures (played first weekend in August, R8m to eventual winners):
Orlando Pirates v Santos
Ajax Cape Town v SuperSport United;
Kaizer Chiefs v Bidvest Wits

Mamelodi Sundowns v Bloemfontein Celtic

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Tottenham's loan ranger Khumalo will be Reading between the lines

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.”

Friday, 22 July 2011

Meeting the Parlotones... it all kicks off when sport meets art nine storeys above the streets of Johannesburg

PAULA TERNS. Internationally acclaimed tunes, surprising art... and half of Paula Terns claims a reasonable proficiency on the football field. Only, being South African, they call it soccer.

Yes, the Paula Terns. Spelt Parlotones. And there they were up in the clouds, next to the Sky Bar at the Holiday Inn in Sandton on Thursday night (while Orlando Pirates were seeing off Kaizer Chiefs in the Vodacom Challenge), where drummer Neil Pauw was showing off his ability as an artist; using only brushes, trowels, scalpels, computer graphics, melted plastic... and a skottel braai.

A skottel braai? Yup, the Ringo Starr of the Parlotones (above, right, withJuli and I, the proud owners of his newest work) uses a bloody barbecue to heat materials for his paintings, carefully planned by laptop computer during endless tours of Europe and America before being translated to canvas with loving care at his studio in Johannesburg.

One of them now hangs on our lounge wall in Centurion. It’s called “The Passion of Missy Rose”. A striking winged fire fly with an angel’s innocence. Pauw, perhaps the least affected pop star in the history of modern celebrity, was at pains to explain the motivation behind his work, the pleasure he gets from his art, the blood, sweat and gently simmering plastic he puts in to his vivid canvasses.

From “Flowers”, a heartbreaking image of a young boy with red blooms, to “Broken Star”, a big bang explosion of plastic and colour, the Parlotones art exhibition in the Cullinan Suite, nine storeys above Sandton, was, surprisingly, high art.

And Pauw’s part-time efforts as South Africa’s Pablo Picasso went like carefully braaied hot cakes. Lead singer Khan Morbee snapped up “Two Hearts”, a joining of two beings with five prominent toes, “because when we rehearsed at Neil’s house, it haunted me”. A partner from Spoor & Fisher, the prominent legal eagles who look after the Parlotones trademarks, claimed “Flaming Lips”, a surreal gathering of ideas and swirling textures.

The sold stickers were spreading like copies of “Eavesdropping on the Songs of Whales”, their latest release. Neil’s brushes created the cover for the album. Bustling band manager Raphael Domalik plans to auction the original to help save South Africa’s rhinos.

But we’re getting too arty-farty in a nation where the battle between sport and art is an unequal one, generally dominated by studded boots and smelly shin pads.

Even more striking than Pauw’s carefully braaied paintwork is the impression left by South Africa’s awesome foursome as they work the three rooms of the Cullinan Suite, hob-nobbing happily with journalists, critics and the hoi polloi of Egoli’s northern suburbs.

Neil, who signs his paintings with a drum motif, is taller than expected, red-bearded, strong. He talks easily, earnestly; about art, the universe and everything. No airs and graces. When I accidentally refer to his cool quartet as “a boy band” he issues only a wry smile.

This is no overnight pop sensation. These guys have their own Parly Army, they fill stadiums locally and are pushing hard overseas. Particularly in America.

“The Viper Room in the States was incredible,” Neil grins after a discussion of his provincial-level skills as a Florida Albion midfielder, “To play there, in such a well-known venue, with the humidity dripping off the ceilings... amazing. They had 300 fans in a venue which holds 250. And they all knew the words.”

From drums to bass guitar and Glen Hodgson , who stops to talk about the band’s next visit to Britain in November. His brother Paul, the lead guitarist, completes the roll call.

And finally to Khan, the charistmatic lead singer. He’s tiny, nearly hidden beneath a knitted grey beanie, donned to ward off the effects of the Highveld winter. Johannesburg’s glitterati clamour about him. But there is no arrogance here, no pretention. Simply football.

“We still play five-a-side when we can,” he grins, “All four of us went to Westridge High which was mainly a rugby school, but Neil and I played at Florida Albion. I’m a good footballer, but you know what it’s like when it’s art versus sport.

“I didn’t have a problem with it. I’d go straight from drama class to soccer training. No problem. I love the game. But for me it was always going to be music.”

Later Neil, between portrait sales, assures me: “Khan’s probably better than I am at football now. But I achieved more... I was picked for the provincial team!”

But the Parlotones aren’t just about music, art and football. There’s wine too. They’ve put their name to three boutique blends: “Push me to the Floor”, “We Call This Dancing” and “Gigantic Mistake”.

Khan says: “I had a dream. My love affair with wine began when I realised that it had accompanied me throughout both momentous occasions and moments of heartache. But I guess I will have to wait a while before I can actually afford the wine farm.”

Not that long. Paula Terns’ unique combination of music, painting, wine and good company could take them as far as they like. And they’d still stop to talk football.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Crystal Palace won't dig deep for Gould... but mighty Morgan will dig deeper for a European future

SuperSports United centre-back Morgan Gould remained stoically upbeat after his surprise rejection at the hands of English Championship club Crystal Palace yesterday.

The 28-year-old flew home to Oliver Tambo International after his two weeks in South London insisting he “definitely” still wants to play in Europe, adding: “I’ve learned a lot from this experience.”

Gould , in man-of-the-match form when South Africa fought out a 0-0 draw against seven-times African champions Egypt in Cairo last month, was generally “impressive” on trial with the championship club in pre-season friendlies against Basingstoke and Wycombe Wanderers.

And with Bafana Bafana team-mate Kagisho Dikgachoi already at Selhurst Park after his move from Fulham, Morgan’s £500,000 transfer well within the bounds of most Championship clubs. Effectively the English second division, the Championship (18,106) is officially the sixth best-supported league in the world after Germany’s Bundesliga (42,673), the English Premier League (34,780), Spain’s La Liga (29,124), Italy’s Serie A (25,304) and France’s Ligue 1 (19,742).

But the Croydon Advertiser, the local “bible” for Palace fans, quoted Palace boss Dougie Friedman as saying yesterday: "Morgan did very well but at the price they were after I just felt he wasn't quite right for us.

“We're working to a very tight budget and at that price he would have had to go straight into the team and 'm not sure he was quite ready for that."

But when Gould arrived on trial, the Advertiser wrote: “Palace have only one recognised central defender in their ranks – and that is the error-prone Paddy McCarthy. A new man at the back is very much needed.”

Gould himself, talking to London-based former Johannesburg football writer Ed Aarons, said: “I most definitely still want to play in Europe.

“I’ll have to go back to South Africa and wait to hear if there are any other options. But it was a good experience that I will learn a lot from.

“We had a meeting today and Dougie said he likes everything he has seen but they need a player who can adapt quickly to the league. They are looking for someone who is experienced in playing in Europe so I have to respect that and move on now. Everything that happens to me I take it as a learning curve.”

On their fan site, Palace fan Lewisham Eagle wrote: “From what I read into that Dougie seems interested in Gould but wants to drive to price down.” EagleNut wrote: “We won't be signing Gould - DF thinks the price is too high and he 'isn't ready' for the first team.”

Prior to Gould’s rejection, Palace fans were being advised to stock up on blue and red vuvuzelas and rename one end at Selhurst Park “The Nelson Mandela Stand” in honour of KG (not many south Londoners can pronounce Dikgachoi) and Gould.

Palace were plunged into a financial crisis when colourful chairman Simon Jordan left after the club went into administration last year – they eventually avoided relegation by six points - but they still managed to pay around the same fee (5.3 million South African rand at yesterday’s rates) for midfielder Dikgachoi.

Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur paid £1.5m (around R16m) for Gould’s centre-back partner Bongani Khumalo last January and he has yet to play for the first team, though he has played in both Spurs’ Vodacom challenge matches in South Africa over the past week.

Just 24 hours before deciding to ditch Gould, Friedman saw Soweto-born 28-year-old who started out at Jomo Cosmos impress in a 0-0 pre-season draw at League One outfit Wycombe Wanderers. He said then: “Morgan has done fantastically well but I think it is only right I talk to the kid before I make any statement.

"It's hard to judge, but he's been with us for a week and we know what we're after. You do your homework and you'll see the signings I bring in will be the right type, the right age, the right profile and he fits all of that.

"So he's done alright but we'll have a chat with him tomorrow and see.

"There's a long, long way to go. There is a fee involved and before we can even go anywhere we'd have to get the right deal. We'll see."

Gould, capped 17 times by South Africa, will return to pre-season training with Supersports United next week. Boss Gavin Hunt may well be breathing a huge sigh of relief over Friedman’s harsh decision to return his captain. Matsatsantsa (The Swanky Boys) struggled in the South African Premier League last season, failing by a substantial margin to maintain the standards which led to three successive South African Premier League titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Keep up with all the latest sports news at and


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Kaizer Chiefs most valuable asset? Itumeleng Khune. And here's why...

For Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, tonight's Soweto derby – displaced a few thousand kilometres to Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Stadium – means much more than simply a place in Saturday’s Vodacom Challenge final against Tottenham Hotspur.

It could be the gateway to a career in Europe – and the real possibility of being hailed as South Africa’s finest ever goalkeeper.

After a stellar performance in the Amakhosi’s 1-0 win over Spurs at Polokwane last Saturday, Khune suddenly finds himself thrust in front of World Cup hero Siphiwe Tshabalala and top-scorer Knowledge Musona as Kaizer Chiefs’ most wanted.

While Tshabalala, scorer of that monumental opening goal against Mexico last June, continues to hope for further interest from Steve McClaren’s Nottingham Forest and Musona, despite scoring twice on trial in Germany, awaits further news from Hoffenheim, Khune is getting rave reviews.

A glorious diving save to his left to deny Peter Crouch at the Peter Mokabe Stadium, followed by an acrobatic effort to his right to foil Gareth Bale left viewers at home and abroad gasping... as did his trademark lightning fast distribution.

Gary Mabbutt, looking after Spurs on their African safari before coach Harry Redknapp’s arrival in South Africa on Monday, said: “If we had scored then we probably would have run out victors. The save from Crouch especially was one of the better ones I have seen in a long, long time. He is very confident and controls his box very well. He’s still young, he can make it in Europe.

“I thought the keeper was outstanding. The two saves he made towards the end from Peter Crouch and Gareth Bale were very important because it was just before Chiefs scored.”

And there was further backing from the Spurs players as they wandered around the pool at their plush Palazzo Hotel near Monte Casino on Monday.

Tottenham’s French central defender Younes Kaboul told us: “The Chiefs player who impressed me most was the goalkeeper . He was amazing. I think Khune and Tshabalala could easily make it in Europe, because they really are quality players and they have a good chance of making it in Europe."

Cameroon full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto agrees: "Yeah he is very good with his feet. His distribution is very good."

But the most important confirmation comes from Tottenham’s new signing Brad Friedel, a 39-year-old American who knows a bit about goalkeeping after a record 82 caps for his country and over 400 Premier League appearances.

Before Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with Orlando Pirates he said: “I watched South Africa’s young goalkeeper in the World Cup and now we have just played against him and he made two fantastic saves on Saturday.

“He’s not that tall but you can see the spring he has in his legs, that makes up for it and I think he can be able to manoeuvre himself around the goal just fine.

“The thing that stands out is his distribution. It’s outstanding for such a young guy - at 24, he is still very young for a goalkeeper and as long as he keeps working hard he can only get better and better.”

Khune, born in Tshing near Ventersdorp on June 20, 1987, is one of six from a mining family. He went to Chiefs on trial as a teenaged outfielder, injured a leg, and found himself playing in goal. Given a surprising passion for cricket – he lists South African big-hitter Lance Klusener as one of his boyhood heroes – he showed good hands and the rest is history.

Last month, Khune’s agent Jazzman Mahlakgane ruled out a move overseas. He said: “Itumeleng has already indicated to me that he is not ready to move and play abroad for now. He wants to stay in South Africa for at least one more season before moving overseas.”

If Khune shines against Pirates tonight – and, if Chiefs down their old rivals – in the Vodacom Challenge final against Spurs at Ellis Park on Saturday, Jazzman may well be left eating those words.

Who the hell is Neal Collins ( See

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Killer Mphela flies to Celtic for five-day trial while Musona deal "is still on"

WANTAWAY Sundowns striker Katlego “Killer” Mphela will fly to Scotland tonight for a five-day trial with Glasgow giants Celtic.

Mphela’s agent Glyn Binkin last night confirmed Sundowns had dismissed an offer from Israel’s Maccabi Haifa for the man who scored Bafana Bafana’s winner against Egypt two months ago.

But he told the Discovery Sports Centre on MetroFM: “It’s been quite a documented transfer situation but I’m delighted to say he’s got permission from Mamelodi Sundowns this afternoon.

“He’ll be flying out to Celtic tonight to take a five day trial in Glasgow. Sundowns promised to give him a chance, I’d like to thank them for giving him this opportunity.

“Maccabi Haifa? Katlego wanted to play football at the highest level, whatever that entailed. But in consulation with the club, Sundowns decided they’d prefer to pursue to Glasgow Celtic option and we’ll take him there.”

Asked if the Celtic offer would exceed the reported £17m made by Maccabi, Binkin said: “Maccabi made an offer and Sundowns turned it down. We respect that decision. When Mphela first played in Europe (with Strasbourg) at 17, he didn’t make it. That’s why he came back to South Africa. But now he has another opportunity.

“Sundowns wanted Mphela to stay but now, for whatever reason, they’ve let him go. I can’t speak for the club but I think it’s important for South African football that Mphela and players of his ilk go abroad.

“There’s been a lot of figures bandied about, Celtic have given Sundowns an idea of the fee they’re looking at. Now he has to prove he’s worth that amount.

“The Scottish Premier League is very tough and demanding, the big clubs are Celtic and Rangers, always at the top, always in Europe. For Mphela, it’s about competing at the top level, and we believe it’s the option which will be good for his future.”

Monday, 18 July 2011

Brad Friedel wishes Nelson Mandela happy birthday... and prepares for Pirates onslaught

Brad Friedel, the ageless American goalkeeper, wished Nelson Mandela a very happy 93rd birthday yesterday before engaging in the usual pre-match verbals in the build-up to tonight’s clash between Tottenham Hotspur and South African champions Orlando Pirates in Nelspruit.

Asked to give a message to camera by the South African Broadcasting Corporation cameras in a quiet corner of the luxurious Palazzo Hotel next to Monte Casino – South Africa’s answer to Las Vegas – the 40-year-old didn’t hesitate. He rarely does.

In South Africa for the first time on the date set aside as Mandela Day by the United Nations, he said simply: “Congratulations Mr Mandela on your 93rd birthday. Everyone at Tottenham Hotspur wishes you well.”

And he remembered another South African luminary too. He played with former Kaizer Chiefs legend Doc Khumalo at Columbus Crew in the late 90s as was quick to ask after his old friend.

It’s the mark of the man that he is so calm in front of potentially awkward camera shots, that he knew how to handle the latest Madiba landmark, as he has handled tricky shots 82 times between the sticks for the United States not to mention 426 games for Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa.

Now retired internationally – he missed out on the USA’s World Cup challenge in South Africa last year – Friedel explained his off-season move to Tottenham easily: “After all those years at Blackburn I made the move to Villa but my contract was expiring and when Harry Redknapp made an offer, I took it.

“It was easy. They’re a good club, going places, with a great squad. The older you get, the easier it is to fit into different atmospheres.

“I’ve found the Tottenham changing room very easy to come into, the players seem very genuine and they’ve made me very welcome. It’s a great group of lads, a great atmosphere and the camaraderie between the players is very good.”

But Friedel – left on the bench for Tottenham’s tour-opening 1-0 defeat against Chiefs at Polokwane on Saturday (thanks largely to Itumeleng Khune's great save from Peter Crouch, pictured above) - theoretically finds himself down the pecking order behind Brazilian No 1 Heurelho Gomes and former Chelsea stopped Carlo Cudicini, the Italian who once offered to play for England.

So he’s happy to be number three at White Hart Lane? In a word. “No.” He said firmly, bald head gleaming in the African winter sun, “I’ll be fighting for the number one spot with Carlo and Gomes. It’s friendly rivalry but it’s real. I will work to be No 1.

“The manager sees us train. He decides who to pick. I won’t be taking it easy at Spurs. I’ll be that was as long as my body holds out... I know that will be sooner rather than later, but that’s how it is. This is no holiday.”

Nobody in a white shirt will be taking a holiday over the next five days in South Africa, according to boss Harry Redknapp, who arrived in Johannesburg yesterday. After treble winners Pirates at the Mbombela Stadium tonight, Spurs go to Ellis Park in nearby Johannesburg on Saturday play the winners of the Orlando Pirates v Kaiser Chiefs Soweto derby showdown in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.

Friedel, from Lakewood Ohio and at 6ft 2in, an All-State basketballer in his youth, confesses: “It’s good pre-season work for us. We won’t be taking it easy. It’s a tough season ahead. We didn’t quite make the Champions League last season, I’ll leave it to the manager to say what our aims are this season, but for me, every game, every result is important.”

Though he hasn’t seen enough of South African team-mates Steven Pienaar or Bongani Khumalo to pass judgement, Friedel, aware that team-mate Pienaar faces his boyhood favourites tonight, insists: “You don’t win any awards in pre-season, but you need to get yourself ready, get your sharpness up.”

Who is Neal Collins (@nealcol on See

Friday, 15 July 2011

McCarthy in no rush to secure a new club as Musona's German move nears completion

Benni McCarthy appears to be in no rush to secure a new club as he flew to Cape Town “to get keep fit and get his touch of the ball back” this week.

The 33-year-old, who has scored more international goals than any other South African, arrives in the Mother City in no apparent hurry to refute the “fat and lazy” slurs which followed him out of the exit door after 18 goalless months at West Ham United in April.

Even his agent, Rob Moore, appears relaxed about McCarthy’s laid-back attitude. He told my colleague Ed Aarons last week: “Benni has just got back from Disneyland.”

Aarons, now working for Sky Sports after his World Cup stint with the Citizen in Johannesburg, spoke to Moore again yesterday when news of Benni’s jaunt to Cape Town broke on Twitter. This time Moore said: “The bottom line is Benni is planning on coming to Cape Town for a holiday and he asked me to ask Ajax if they mind if he trains there to keep fit.

“We haven’t planned anything yet because he has been on holiday for the start of June so it just a matter of starting things up and seeing what direction we move.

“He’s on holiday visiting friends and you can’t spend 24/7 doing that so he wants to have somewhere he can go and get his touch of the ball back and that type of thing.

“Obviously certain clubs have certain targets in mind at this point in time so maybe a decision will only be taken in August. It’s still early days.”

Moore claims interest from clubs in America’s MLS and the lucrative middle-east, where Qatar and the United Arab Emirates offer big money to professionals looking for a retirement package.

McCarthy, so sharp during his days with Jose Mourinho’s Porto and Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers in his heyday, will train next week with new Ajax coach Maarten Stekelenburg to get himself back in some sort of shape, but both Moore and McCarthy’s twittering brother Jerome reckons no discussions have been held about a permanent move.

Ajax Cape Town CEO George Comitis, who saw his side go so close to the South African Premier League title last season, said simply: “No, he is not joining us. He is just coming to train with us while he is in Cape Town.”

McCarthy’s brother Jerome, who also works as a player agent, twittered: “My brother is coming to Cape Town tomorrow, but I do not know anything about him signing for Ajax.

“Maybe somebody found out he was travelling to Cape Town and made up their own conclusions, but he has not said anything to me about it.”

Jerome also mentioned Benni had elicited interest from Qatar and the MLS, but concluded: “That is all I know.”

As I told SABC’s excellent football commentator Sizwe Mabena on MetroFM’s Discovery Sport Centre on Thursday night, McCarthy can do better than that. Long derided by Bafana Bafana fans for his on-off attitude towards the national squad, this is when McCarthy should consider giving something back to the nation of his birth, confirming his reputation as South Africa’s finest modern striker.

Mr Moore rarely appreciates my views, but McCarthy is being presented with the perfect opportunity to end his career with a bang in the city of his birth. If he trains hard and impresses Stekelenburg, then Ajax are bound to make a bid for a man cast out of West Ham four months ago after twice being fined for being overweight.

Failing Ajax, he could even consider a move to Kaiser Chiefs if Knowledge Musona goes to the Bundesliga, as appears increasingly likely.

Chiefs general manager Bobby Motaung told the Sowetan: “It was a successful trip for the player who flew to Germany on Sunday and joined the team for the pre-season in Austria.”

Motaung confirmed TSG Hoffenheim have offered Chiefs R15m for Musona and that Amazulu’s Lehlohonolo Majoro is being lined up along with FC Twente’s unsettled Bernard Parker to replace Musona. But surely a fit, hungry McCarthy could do the job?

Moore admits: “One doesn’t rule anything out at this stage because we haven’t sat down so we will just have to see what happens.

“I’m sure there are a few clubs that would like to sign him. I think he needs to get all his holidays and visits completed and then at that point he can see what the right choice should be.”


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Fury as Masilele's move to Leicester breaks down over Konchesky

Tsepo Masilela’s life-long ambition to play in England fell apart amid a gathering storm last night when the Bafana Bafana left-back’s one-year loan move to Leicester City was scuppered by the arrival of the experienced Premier League journeyman Paul Konchesky.

Masilela’s agent is furious – Witbank-born 26-year-old Masilela, currently at Maccabi Haifa in Israel, had actually flown to Sweden, where Championship club Leicester and their former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson were on tour.

Pending a medical the season-long deal (with a subsequent option to buy) was on the verge of going through when Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish, panicked by news of Masilela’s move, cut Konchesky’s fee by around 70 percent to £1.5m (R16m).

That amounts to half of what Roy Hodgson paid his old club Fulham for Konchesky last year – but Dalglish, Hodgson’s successor at Anfield, was no fan of Konchesky. He farmed the former Charlton, Spurs, West Ham, Fulham and Liverpool full-back out to Nottingham Forest on an emergency loan last year.

Though Konchesky, 30, has played over 400 Premier League games and won two England caps under Eriksson, Dalglish was clearly influenced by the Liverpool fans, who never took to the Barking-born defender.

According to Sky Sports, Masilela’s agent Paschalis Tountouris raged: "The way Liverpool operated is totally unacceptable. The medical was okay and we were just waiting for Leicester to offer a contract. But when Liverpool saw that Tsepo was going to sign, they reduced their price by 70 per cent for Konchesky.

"Konchesky doesn't need a work permit, which was going to take 20 days for Tsepo, he is experienced in England and Eriksson knows him much better. Tsepo had his heart set on a move to England. This is unfortunately the situation, but I don't think Leicester have dealt with this issue in the proper way."

"Life goes on and he will go back to Maccabi Haifa for now. I'm sure he will get a chance at another European club."

Masilela played a major part in Maccabi Haifa’s title triumph in Israel last season and is three years into a four-year contract though he has been offered a two-year extension. With 33 Bafana Bafana caps to his credit, relegated Premier League club Birmingham City are now thought to be interested in the former Benoni United player.

Pienaar lands in Johannesburg, McCarthy returns from Disneyland. Which one's Mickey Mouse?

The two most recognisable faces of South African football nearly crossed paths at Heathrow Airport in London on Wednesday night – Steven Pienaar on his way to Johannesburg and going places, Benni McCarthy on his way home from Disneyland and going nowhere.

While Bafana Bafana captain Pienaar is looking forward to three Vodacom Cup games with Tottenham Hotspur, South Africa’s record goalscorer McCarthy is desperately seeking a club to extend his career.

At 33, Benni appears to be quite relaxed about his future. According to Ed Aarons, the British journalist who worked in South Africa, this is what his agent Rob Moore said about Benni’s quest for a future: "I spoke to Benni and he’s just got back from Disneyland with his family, but Benni just wants to take a bit of time to decide his next move.”

Cast out of West Ham after scoring precisely zero goals in 18 months of argument about his weight, Benni is apparently sought after in the United Arab Emirates and America’s MLS, where old professionals never die, they just play that way.

Alternatively, we hear Ajax’s Cape Town branch are keen on bringing McCarthy back to the mother city after a goal-happy 12-year career in Europe which took in Celta Vigo, Porto and Blackburn before the disastrous £2m move to the Hammers.

Hopefully he’s left Mickey Mouse behind and is currently working hard at pre-season training, though exactly where and when that happens remains open to question.

And Pienaar? He turned up at Oliver Tambo International yesterday full of beans, ready to take on Kaizer Chiefs in Polokwane on Saturday after admitting to being an Orlando Pirates fan when he grew up in nearby Westbury. Spurs play Pirates at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium on Tuesday.

Pienaar is the new face of South African football. Presentable, hard-working, eager to please. With the Luca Modric-to-Chelsea row growing by the day, he will use the Vodacom Challenge as a perfect opportunity to prove his worth to boss Harry Redknapp, who signed him from Everton for a bargain £2m in January.

He twittered this week: “It’s always amazing to play back home. I can’t wait. I supported Pirates as a kid before I moved to Ajax Cape Town.”

Prior to that, Pienaar offered his views on the Rainbow Nation’s hosting of last year’s World Cup to FIFA, saying: “Many people, especially in Europe, thought that we couldn’t manage a World Cup in our country. At the end, we all proved them wrong.

“The world celebrated a fantastic World Cup on the African continent, with crazy supporters and the unforgettable sounds of the Vuvuzelas.

“The future will show us if we can keep up the spirit from the World Cup, but I am convinced that we can do it. I think a World Cup in my country was a fantastic opportunity for us and the African people to make a strong statement on ending discrimination.”

Yup, Pienaar isn’t afraid to be political. He added: “Growing up in South Africa, a country that for many years suffered under racial discrimination, I kept myself busy with football and tried not to think about apartheid around me. It was a tough time in South Africa and many innocent people suffered under apartheid in my home country, but we have to forget about the past and build on our future.

“Nelson Mandela is our ‘Father of the Nation,’ and he played a major role in trying to put an end to discrimination in South Africa and the world. Even when he was in jail, he never gave up fighting for freedom or for our rights. He showed us that we all have to fight for a better life, for freedom and for an end to discrimination in the world.

“Sport is the best thing to unite people. Nelson Mandela taught us how sports can change people’s minds and bring them together as a happy family. I remember the Rugby World Cup in our country when he brought our nation together. Sports can change people’s minds and prejudices not only in South Africa but around the whole world.”

Spot on Schillo. Perhaps it’s time big Benni tried to change people’s minds and prejudices.

Now read Ed Aaron's superb blog on McCarthy: