JOHANNESBURG - Ahead of the start of the 2017-18 PSL season, we will profile captains of the five teams we believe are serious contenders for the league title. In our fourth feature, we focus on Kaizer Chiefs skipper Itumeleng Khune.
Some have suggested that goalkeepers and defenders make the best captains because they can see the game from all angles. But there is more to it than that in appointing Khune, the national team’s No 1, as skipper of Kaizer Chiefs. The 30-year-old is a big personality and extremely vocal on the pitch. A Chiefs captain can’t be timid - the high stakes dictate that whoever is given that responsibility should be able to take the pressure.
Although Khune was almost out the door in 2015 following a standoff over an improved contract and a desire - fuelled by his then agent - to move abroad, he’s been a one-club man. The Bafana goalie arrived at Chiefs aged 12 and his meteoric rise within the club structures is well documented. He’s probably had that armband coming, given how life at Naturena has panned out for him. Khune is also one of a very few who are honest in interviews, and this much has been on display during the previous two seasons, at a time during which the club has not been able to win a single trophy. The goalkeeper’s assessment of what needs to be fixed is often refreshing.
Route to captaincy
From the time he made his debut two months after turning 20, this type of responsibility was almost inevitable. Khune has been an understudy to not just great goalkeepers, but he's also played alongside some notable players. The advantage of Khune breaking into the first-team so young has been that he was able to learn from such experienced players. He was appointed captain in October 2011 following then coach Vladimir Vermezovic’s decision to strip Tau of the role after a bust-up between the two.
It’s difficult to narrow down a goalkeeper’s way of playing, but Khune has several traits in his game that very few of his counterparts posses. His distribution of the ball, for instance, is one such attribute and over the years both club and country have benefited incredibly from it. Khune has the ability to spot a teammate from a distance and deliver a timely, accurate and well-measured pass to send them on their way. But that is just one side of his game.
Khune, not the tallest in his position in the PSL and probably something that has cost him a move to Europe in the past, is a known shot-stopper and a proven match-winner. He was plagued by injures last season, but still managed to feature in 24 of his club’s 30 league matches - conceding 18 goals. His omission from the Goalkeeper of the Season nomination list last season came as a bit of a shock. Khune is unbelievably consistent and will likely prove yet again why he is South Africa's first choice between the sticks.
It’s near impossible to fill the gap in Khune’s absence. Whenever Chiefs have tried it they have come unstuck, the two important matches in the PSL title race against Cape Town City and SuperSport United in the final weeks of last season being a perfect case in point. With Khune recovering from injury and second-choice goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo also on the mend, young Bruce Bvuma from the reserve team was thrown in at the deep end and conceded five goals in those two matches.
The Glamour Boys always expect to struggle in goal when Khune is unavailable. He also demands a lot from his back four and can often be seen calling on them to “switch on” at critical phases of the match. Commentators and pundits have argued that if it wasn’t for Khune’s heroics last season, there’s simply no way Chiefs would have remained in the title chase until the final days of the campaign.