Ronwen Williams is tops between the sticks
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JOHANNESBURG - Kaizer Chiefs have arguably unearthed the finest goalkeepers in the South African topflight league more than any other club.
The impressive record dates all the way back to the days of Peter Bal’ac, Gary Bailey, Eshele Botende, Wade du Plessis, Brian Baloyi, Rowen Fernandez and Itumeleng Khune.
So much so that when then Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter had to select the squad that would represent the nation in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, he spent his last days between his office at Safa and Naturena, Chiefs' home base.
For Baxter, his visits to Chiefs were not social - to see son and goalkeeping coach, Lee. Nor was it to tip then coach Ernst Middendorp on how his team can consolidate their lead at the summit of the DStv Premiership standings, given he was the last man to win them the title in 2015.
Instead, Baxter was keeping tabs on the recovery of Khune from a shoulder injury. Surprisingly, even pundits, who were not fond of Baxter, supported the notion of having Khune part and parcel of the team that would travel to Egypt even if he was not match-fit – at all.
He was, after all, the No 1 goalkeeper for club and country for more than a decade since making his senior debut in 2007. He had represented the national team in all major competitions, including the World Cup, while his trophy cabinet spoke for itself.
Baxter’s pursuit didn’t bear fruit though, with Khune taking longer to recover. But the 67-year-old coach didn’t leave the "nurturing Naturena" empty handed, drafting 24-year-old Bruce Bvuma as an understudy to Ronwen Williams and Darren Keet for the continental showpiece.
Bvuma would become the second Amakhosi goalkeeper in the Afcon alongside Nigeria’s Daniel Akpeyi. This was an impression that Chiefs’ goalkeeping department still had it – despite blunders from the latter and Virgil Vries, who had left the club, that season.
Without Khune – the vastly experienced campaigner and second highest ranked Bafana player – Baxter had to make a decision on who’ll be his No 1. He then went for an unlikely choice – at least according to Bafana's supporters who held grudges - Williams.
Williams donned the No 1 jersey still haunted by his previous misfortunes, notably the five goals he conceded against Brazil in 2014. But the SuperSport United goalkeeper grabbed the bulls by the horns in Egypt, ensuring his nation reached the quarter-finals.
But Williams’ late mistake against Akpeyi’s Nigeria knocked out the 1996 champions in the quarter-finals. Despite the error, Williams had done enough to win the hearts and trust of the nation again. He was voted as the standout goalkeeper in the PSL the season before and after Afcon.
The SuperSport academy graduate was the first goalkeeper to win the Goalkeeper of the Season awards for two seasons in a row since Khune who achieved that feat between the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 seasons, when Chiefs won the league and finished second respectively.
To illustrate the profound growth of Williams as a player and person, the 29-year-old recently notched up a century of successive domestic appearances for SuperSport between the sticks. A record for Matsantsantsa a Pitori and the PSL.
Williams’ responsibilities at SuperSport are more than that of just being a goalkeeper. He's also the club captain and one of the senior players. But he has embraced those duties with aplomb, hence his team is aiming to reclaim glory after 11 years.
Yes, the presence of Williams who's been at the club for 15 years has elevated SuperSport to the neck of the Premiership standings after 16 games with 31 points, five behind leaders, arch-rivals and champions Mamelodi Sundowns this season.
But while it’s often said that “goalkeepers mature like fine wine”, just like in the case of Williams, the same cannot be said for Khune, who despite being fully-fit after a streak of injuries has failed to pitch up for his team or has been responsible for their downfall.
Just on Wednesday, the 33-year-old was responsible for “another blunder” that cost Amakhosi maximum points at death during their 2-1 defeat to AmaZulu. This was an event that even coach Gavin Hunt deemed “a big concern since his arrival at the club”.
Hunt's words are justifiable considering that was Khune's first game between the poles since being dropped for Akpeyi late in December after his blunders cost Amakhosi the maximum points when they last met SuperSport away from home, at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium.
SuperSport and Chiefs will, for the last time this season, square off at the FNB Stadium this afternoon (3pm kick-off). The two teams are on different sides of the coin, with Chiefs drowning in the bottom half of the standings, while SuperSport are among the pacesetters.
But this is a game that could pit the “former best goalkeeping institution in the country against the current”. And that's why the outing of the goalkeepers on either end this afternoon might be significant: preserving history or maintaining the new dawn.
Meanwhile, one of the players that has enjoyed facing Chiefs is SuperSport’s striker Bradley Globler. In 12 starts against the Glamour Boys, Grobler has scored nine goals and contributed with three assists. And this season, he’s the deadliest striker in the league after 12 league goals in 16 matches.
With Chiefs’ defence loose, particularly their goalkeeping as Akpeyi has had his fair share of challenges, captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele and Co have to find means to solidify their wall. Chiefs had missed Mphahlele during a recent lay-off due to a hamstring injury.