JOHANNESBURG – Itumeleng Khune’s reign as Kaizer Chiefs’ No 1 has hit rock bottom in the past few months but 32-year-old has vowed to stay positive while he continues to work hard in order to get back to the top.
Having burst onto the scene almost 13 years ago, Khune went on to become a prominent figure in South African football, both for Chiefs and Bafana Bafana.
However, a shoulder injury midway last season saw the multiple award-winning goalkeeper spending more time in the medical room than between the sticks.
This meant that Chiefs were forced into a corner, signing then lowly ranked Daniel Akpeyi from Chippa United during last season’s January transfer window as Khune’s temporarily replacement.
However, after a full pre-season with the team, Khune once more found himself back in the medical room in October after suffering a groin injury against Baroka.
Since then, though, Akpeyi did enough to work his way into the hearts and minds of the fans, players and the technical team, playing an important role as the team currently sit atop the Premiership with 45 points from 19 matches so far this season.
Coach Ernst Middendorp has rewarded Akpeyi’s resurgence with the No 1 jersey, while Khune has been demoted to a roll on the bench - something that is something of a first for him.
However, the experienced shot-stopper will not moan and sulk, insisting that he’ll continue to back Akpeyi, who’s been one of the pillars of strength for the team this season, while he’ll continue to work his socks off at training and behind the scenes.
“It all boils down to confidence. I think the more I keep working hard at training, the more I’ll convince the coaches that I deserve to be back in the team,” said Khune, who’s only made three domestic appearances for Amkhosi this season.
“But if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll continue supporting Daniel.
“We have a healthy competition; this is because whoever is on the field is able to perform. Daniel has been getting the full support from each one of us from the goalkeeping department and that’s why he’s been doing well,” Khune said.
Unlike outfield players who become surplus to requirements when their legs can no longer carry them, goalkeepers mature like fine wine - should they continue to keep fit.
Khune, who recently welcomed a baby daughter, is willing to conform to the notion, insisting that he’s one of the first few players to arrive at training, where he undergoes individual programmes before joining the rest of his teammates for their daily sessions.
“Thanks so much for the complement but I don’t like talking much about my private life. We’ll stick to football for now and I’ll make sure that I bounce back on the field and make sure that I reclaim my place at Chiefs and Bafana,” he said.
“That’s not entitlement, though. That’s why I’ll work hard to reclaim my place. That’s where I’ve been for years, so it’s a very hard transition. I need to get back to my best by working hard, where nobody sees,” he added.
Despite starting and keeping a clean sheet during Chiefs’ 1-0 win over GladAfrica Championship side Royal Eagles in the Nedbank Cup last 32 last Saturday, Khune is expected to be Akpeyi’s cover when runaway leaders Chiefs welcome Maritzburg United to FNB Stadium tomorrow (6pm kick-off).