Falling out of love is as easy as falling in love. Did someone once say that? I don’t even know if it’s true, to be fair, but falling out of love with South African football is certainly easy. Why? Because most of what you watch on an average weekend in the Premier Soccer League is more of a cure for insomnia than a salve for the heart.
Itumeleng Khune fell out of love with football, we were told this week by the goalkeeper’s coach at Kaizer Chiefs, Gavin Hunt. However, the reasons for falling out of love here are far different than just some tired hack’s long-suffering disappointment.
Khune was, at his peak, Bafana Bafana’s number one goalkeeper by a country mile, an astonishingly good shot-stopper and ball-distributor, who almost double-handedly (pun intended) kept South Africa in the running to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
They didn’t make it in the end, with Khune leading the dance of delusion in Nelspruit, but his efforts on the pitch in qualification were unbelievable.
Khune was also a main man in Stuart Baxter’s Chiefs side that won two league titles in three seasons, between 2012 and 2015, but realistically, the end of that 2014/15 campaign may well be where Khune started to feel like his heart was heading out of the game.
Chiefs actually released Khune in June 2015, saying he didn’t want to sign a new deal at Naturena, with rumours flying around a move to Mamelodi Sundowns, or even overseas. “Spiderkid” did eventually re-sign with Amakhosi, of course, but Chiefs haven’t won a trophy since he signed a new contract.
Only a madman at Amakhosi would not look on with envy as Sundowns have, in the meantime, won a boatload of trophies, with Denis Onyango becoming an absolute star of continental club football.
Khune, by contrast, has seen Chiefs fail to find, as yet, an adequate replacement for Baxter, while injury has ruled him out of Bafana’s participation in both the 2015 and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
While Molefi Ntseki has continued to call Khune up to his Bafana squad, even when he lost his place in the Chiefs team, he is no longer a starter at international level, and it is easy to see why these niggling injuries combined with a loss of status for club and country, Khune lost his love for football.
Then came the most horrific of tragedies for the Khune family as Itumeleng Khune’s sister, Mapula Khune, died in a house fire last month.
Khune was given compassionate leave by Chiefs and only returned to the side to play in the vital 1-0 Caf Champions League win over Wydad Casablanca on Saturday. Replacing Daniel Akpeyi, who was sent off, Khune actually had one of his best games for Chiefs this season.
“I mean, he’s had a hell of a time in his life, with what’s happened … He’s one that I can see is coming back mentally,” said Hunt after the match.
Out of horrific tragedy such as this, all one can often take is to move forward, and if Khune has found a way out of this tragedy to refocus his career and rediscover his love of the game, it can only help Kaizer Chiefs going forward and, indeed, Bafana Bafana.