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Johannesburg – There can be no disputing that Itumeleng Khune is a very good goalkeeper. He has the potential to be even better, to attain true greatness and leave a memorable legacy.
Having already amassed over 50 Bafana Bafana caps at age 25, there’s no question the Kaizer Chiefs captain will catch up with Aaron Mokoena’s record of 107 appearances for the national team sooner rather than later.
But to be acclaimed as a true great, Khune will have to eliminate a worrying tendency in his game that surely wins him no friends: play-acting.
This ugly side of Khune’s game rears its head almost every time Chiefs are in the lead, as we saw on Wednesday against Black Leopards, when he made a meal out of what looked an innocuous challenge after he pushed his chest against an opponent’s outstretched leg.
Seconds later, Khune was raising his hand in protest even as the referee had clearly blown for a foul in his favour. Then the goalkeeper, as is his characteristic, kicked the ball out to touch and threw himself on to the ground, calling for medical attention.
Television replays, once again, exposed Khune’s antics as no more than childish histrionics meant to run down the clock, for contact with the Leopards attacker was, at best, minimal to cause him to roll on floor as if he’d been shot.
Wednesday’s play-acting by Khune may not have been noticeable because Chiefs went on to score a late third goal, and were so dominant in the second half that it was unlikely anyone would have accused them of winning solely through time-wasting tactics. But still, it was another distinct example of the player always ready to resort to theatrics, which surely blight his path to greatness.
It would seem Khune learnt little from the Mbombela debacle of October 2011, when he and his Bafana teammates did their best to run the clock down in their match against Sierra Leone, only to establish, tragically, that a draw they had secured was insufficient to send them to the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
That was disastrous especially for Khune, who had wasted a lot of time but could curiously be seen sprinting in excitement to lead celebrations at the final whistle, the “pain” in the leg, which he had been clutching towards the end of the game as he called for several timeouts, having miraculously disappeared.
Play-acting and gamesmanship will remain part of the game. But when a player with great potential repeats this more often, it tends to muddy his legacy in the long run.
There are several examples of players who would be great today, but their mere mention elicits sneer rather than praise. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez remains one of the most talented players of his generation, but is sadly seen as a cheat and a diver of note. There’s little he can do to change that perception, and may have to live with it for the rest of his career.
Khune has not reached that extreme cheating stage yet. Nobody looks at him and brands him a time-waster. Not even damaging tabloid headlines regarding his personal life during the Nations Cup could stop him from performing exceptionally for Bafana. But he has to guard against overdoing the theatrics. As Chiefs captain, he should lead by example, like he impressively did last week when he sprinted from his goalline to break up a mid-pitch melee between the Amakhosi and Free State Stars players.
Notably, when Khune did suffer serious injury after colliding with a Golden Arrows player in a league match last year, he didn’t tumble around the turf in exaggeration. The injury looked serious from the moment it happened. When he jumps around, even he knows he’s not injured. He still has plenty time to eliminate this nauseating aspect from his game, then surely he’ll be on path to being remembered as truly a great sportsman, not merely a good one. – Saturday Star
*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng