’Strong mentality’ keeps Itumeleng Khune going for Bafana, Kaizer Chiefs
JOHANNESBURG - In a professional career that has spanned over a decade, Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune is well aware that criticism is part of the game.
It was back in 2007 when Khune made his professional debut for Kaizer Chiefs, and after grabbing the opportunity with both hands to lead Chiefs to the Telkom Knockout crown, the then-20-year-old was drafted into the final squad of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.
From then on, Khune rose to stardom at club and international level as he bossed the No 1 jersey for club and country. At Chiefs, he won every domestic trophy up for grabs, while he’s the second-most capped player for Bafana with 91 caps – 16 behind Aaron Mokoena.
But in recent years Khune has been troubled by injuries. Last year he missed out on the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt with Bafana, losing the No 1 jersey to Ronwen Williams. At Chiefs, he also lost his jersey to Nigerian No 1 Daniel Akpeyi.
Expectedly, with Khune having made minimal contribution at club level, last season and at the start of this term, many were bemused by his recent call-up for Bafana’s back-to-back Afcon qualifiers against Sao Tome and Principe at home tomorrow and away on Monday.
“Critics are there and will always be there,” Khune said.
“That’s what brings the best out of every player. You are right when you say I’ve been around for a while, and I think that a strong mentality has kept me going since day one. I always turn negativity to positivity.”
Despite his longevity at Bafana, it still hits hard to Khune that he’s yet to hoist a trophy during his time with the national team.
Bafana’s success dates back to 1996 after winning the continental showpiece on home soil under coach Clive Barker.
“It’s been very difficult because we’ve been coached by a lot of coaches and it has taken us a while as players to settle down under the coach’s philosophy. At the end of the day, the focus is not on me as Itumeleng Khune but as a team.
“We’ll continue trying,” Khune explained.
Khune’s involvement at Bafana might give him a chance to close in on Mokoena on cap, but equally, he is not naïve and thinking he’ll walk back into the team, especially with the PSL’s back-to-back Goalkeeper of the Season Williams and overseasbased Darren Keet around.
In fact, Williams and Keet will probably be the only goalkeepers to make the match-day squad against Sao Tome in the first leg at Moses Mabhida Stadium (9pm kick-off).
But Khune knows that his role goes beyond playing.
“The guys know exactly what I’ve achieved in my career and I don’t have to remind them of that. They draw inspiration from me, so I don’t have to get to camp and get bigheaded or start looking down on my teammates,” Khune said.
“The presence itself should say a lot. I am not an arrogant player. I am humble and have always been. We are here to work as a team and not individuals. There are younger players who get motivated from seeing a player like me who’s been part of the game for more than a decade.”