Dented legacy? Next steps after Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper and captain suspended and stripped of title
Itumeleng Khune has been in South Africa’s soccer top-flight for just less than two decades. Though injuries have slowed him down in recent years, he remains one of the greatest players the country has ever produced. He must tread carefully, so as to not further dent his legacy.
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
The above quote is largely attributed to Batman: The Dark Knight. The movie was released in 2008 and featured that unforgettable acting masterclass by the late Heath Ledger, as the Joker.
Someone who has experienced some dark nights over the last couple of weeks is Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune. Amakhosi announced on Thursday that the veteran goalminder has been suspended and stripped of his role as club captain.
The Soweto side said they had taken the decision to sideline Khune following a “rigorous disciplinary” process.
Although the club did not state the reasons for its action, soccer publication FARPost reported last month that Khune had arrived at one the club’s training sessions demonstrating signs of being under the influence. A breathalyser test confirmed this and the experienced goalkeeper was sent packing on the day.
FARPost also said that the club was unhappy that Khune – the longest-serving Amakhosi player from the current crop – had allegedly refused to do an interview when Chiefs chairperson Kaizer Motaung was inducted into the South African Hall of Fame a month ago.
“As a club that upholds the highest levels of professionalism, in which discipline forms a key component, Kaizer Chiefs initiated an internal investigation after certain incidents involving Khune came to our attention. The investigation was essential in ensuring the proper functioning and unity within our team,” the Soweto side stated.
The club said during his absence, Khune is expected to “attend and actively participate in certain programmes designed to support his personal growth and development.”
“These programmes are specifically aimed at helping him address challenges and issues he is facing, while promoting a positive team culture,” Amakhosi said.
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Though the suspension period was not stipulated by the club, it said Khune would be welcomed back into the team “once he has completed the required programmes and met the set expectations”.
No human is perfect, with each individual possessing their own demons. Nevertheless, such a transgression was unexpected from the goalkeeper. Especially considering Khune’s seniority in the Chiefs setup.
Not to mention that he is someone who has been with Amakhosi since he was 12-years-old. Thus, he knows the Amkhosi ethos. It was drilled into him a long time ago.
For the 36-year-old, this latest sequence of events further dents what is one of the most impressive legacies for a South African soccer player.
During his Amakhosi career, Khune’s has stuffed his personal trophy cabinet with three league titles, as well as a plethora of domestic knockout competitions.
He also holds the honour of being one just two goalkeepers to be named the player of the season in the Premier Soccer League era. He is joined by another former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper in Andre Arendse on that exclusive list.
In recent years though, his form has mimicked that of his club. Khune and Chiefs are without any major trophy since 2015.
Just like Amakhosi, Khune has limped along during this time – with injuries impacting his ability to perform as consistently and impressively as he did during the prime of his career.
In spite of his fitness issues recently, Khune has insisted that he wishes to play on for a few more years. Drawing inspiration from Italian goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon and Egyptian heavyweight Essam El-Hadary.
“If Buffon could do it until he was 45. El-Hadary could do it until 44. Who am I, at the age of 36, to entertain the fact that someone has an idea that Itumeleng must retire?” Khune said.
Those goalkeepers were consummate professionals, on and off the field, throughout their storied careers. Something that another former Chiefs and Bafana Bafana goalkeeper, Brian Baloyi, hinted that Khune needs to improve on if he wishes to stretch his career for a few more years.
“He needs to look at himself and say ‘I still want to play for Kaizer Chiefs’. And he needs to sacrifice a whole lot of stuff in his life, including friends. There are some friends he needs to discard and just focus on himself,” Baloyi told SABC Sport.
“We know he has talent. No one is questioning that. But the two things we can question are his commitment and his fitness.”
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Khune has always expressed his desire to end his career at the club he’s been at all his life.
However, the club sees a future without him as a player. It indicated that this season would be his last before they transition him into an ambassadorial role and support him as he moves towards becoming a goalkeeper coach.
This incident will likely hand the club leverage when the two parties head to the negotiation table towards the end of the season. If he lasts that long in Naturena.
Khune may be forced to hang up his gloves after all. Or be forced to find another club to continue his career with. Something he is loath to do. DM