Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune talks about his soccer career. Photo: Itumeleng English

JOHANNESBURG – When hearing “Ventersdorp” and the discussion on what the North West town is best known for, the lady at the adjacent table pipes up “for the man who fell off his horse”.

Itumeleng Khune smiles – yes, Ventersdorp will always be synonymous with Eugene “ET” Terre’Blanche, but Khune is its modern-day “favourite son”.

The Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana captain knows ET’s horse well: he has encountered it first-hand.

“When I was about seven years old, my mom Flora and I were getting some things at the Spar supermarket in town, when Terre’Blanche came inside the shop on his horse.

“He galloped through the store, while someone filled his basket for him. It freaked me out. He really thought he owned the town, and that he could do as he wished,” says Khune.

The next time he encountered ET not long after was far scarier.

“Back then, we watched TV using a car battery. When it ran low, a friend and I went to the garage to charge the battery and on our way, we encountered Terre’Blanche at a four-way stop in his bakkie, with his dog in the back. He stopped right in front of us and yelled at his dog to tear us apart,” Khune recalls, the memory still vivid.

“He did not want to see black people, and whenever he came across any, he would send his dog to chow us. Luckily that day, there were traffic cops across the road and we were spared and made a hasty getaway, but it was not a nice experience.”

Itumeleng Khune blocks a ball during a training session at AW Muller stadium at the University of Johannesburg. Photo: Itumeleng English


Ventersdorp certainly needed a new reference point to shed its AWB stigma, and in Khune, it could not have asked for a better poster boy.

Khune comes across as assured and relaxed, with great stature and presence, and a maturity and wisdom that is very affable.

It’s hard to fathom that he will only later this month turn 30. “Itu” seems to have been around as a flamboyant leader on the football pitch for many years. At his relatively tender age, he’s already played more than 270 times for the fabled Kaizer Chiefs and has amassed 82 caps for the national team he leads.

His road to professional football is an often-told one, but one worth telling again.

When he arrived for trials at Kaizer Chiefs in 1999, before even reaching his teens, he started out as a defender and passed the trials held by Chiefs’ renowned development coach Terror Sephooa.

He passed it again a second time as a striker, but was dealt a hammer blow when chest problems and severe cramps put paid to any career as an outfielder.

“I had already taken all my belongings from Ventersdorp and enrolled in a school in Joburg. As a young boy I had dreamt of playing for Kaizer Chiefs, I was hopelessly in love with the club, and playing for them was all I ever wanted. I was devastated, but refused to give up on my dream,” says Khune.

Told by Sephooa that his Kaizer Chiefs journey was over, he simply stuck around and stood behind the goals at every training session, and with his bare hands dived and threw himself at every ball that came his way behind the posts.

He acted as kit manager, as physio, whatever he could to keep his Kaizer Chiefs dream alive.

Such was his dogged determination that he eventually made it at the club as a goalkeeper in their under-13 team, with Sephooa moved to tell him: “I am proud of you, you stayed positive, you worked hard and refused to give up on your dream.”

Khune has become one of our most recognisable and marketable sports stars.

He is proud of his journey, but has lots of milestones to chalk up yet.

He has committed to Kaizer Chiefs and to being a one-club man.

“To achieve what I have in my career means the world to me. So many players dream of getting the opportunity to play for Kaizer Chiefs, and I take my responsibilities as an ambassador for the club very seriously.

“I’m not a club legend just yet, and it’s something I aspire to. Being a role model takes a lot of sacrifice, you have to carry yourself well off the field.

“I make mistakes, but people must find inspiration when they look at you.

“So I am happy to give people my time, they deserve it. Without them, I would not be where I am today,” Khune says, as he politely accommodates requests for his picture in the busy mall.

He’s had a good spell too as Bafana Bafana goalkeeper and captain, the stand-out being walking on to the pitch at Soccer City for the “breathtaking” opening match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and bursting into tears as his good friend and club and national teammate Siphiwe Tshabalala scored that goal.

An appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympics and keeping a clean sheet against Neymar and home team Brazil in the tournament’s opening game is another major highlight.

“As a young boy, I dreamt of playing one game for Bafana. I’ve now played 82 and will cherish every one for the rest of my life.

“I’ve now set a new target and want to get to 108 (record holder Aaron Mokoena has 107 caps). I still have a long way to go, I’ve not yet turned 30, and goalkeepers can often play until they’re 40,” Khune says.

Off the field, he’s set his sights on becoming an entrepreneur and is an avid property investor, preparing for the day “when the pay cheques stop”.

For all his properties, one of the country’s most eligible bachelors is still looking for the white picket-fence life of a woman to share his life and home with.

“Football is my life and I have a large family to take care of. But yes, I do feel I am under pressure now.

“Most of the guys I play with have kids and are married, but I want kids with someone I will spend the rest of my life with. Who will love me for who and not what I am.

“Someone who will add value to my life, not just benefit and then leave, as has happened before,” he says, without wishing to elaborate.

 

While he does meet “a lot of ladies”, they’ve not been on the same wavelength and hence he’s not put a ring on it just yet.

For now though, he’s hoping for a ring of steel from his Bafana defence as they face old foes Nigeria away next Saturday in their opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with not-so-new coach Stuart Baxter back at the helm.

“We respect Nigeria, they’ve beaten us many times before and have big-name players. But it will be a different ball game this time round.

“I also believe our standard has improved, and we have players who will want to impress our coach. It will be difficult, but we are looking forward to the game. I enjoy and work well under pressure,” says Khune.

Against the Super Eagles, pressure is guaranteed. Luckily, Khune enjoys his kitchen hot.

Saturday Star

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