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Itumeleng Khune – the highs and many lows of his Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana career

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Last weekend, the 36-year-old was honoured by Kaizer Chiefs after spending 25 years at the club. The event felt like a farewell, but the club and the player insisted afterwards that it was just a show of appreciation.

Itumeleng Khune of Kaizer Chiefs is honoured for 25 years of service dduring DStv Premiership 2023/24 football match against Polokwane City at Soccer City on 18 May 2024. Picture: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

Lunga Biyela

Regardless of what Itumeleng Khune and Kaizer Chiefs say, the veteran goalkeeper looks like he’s played his last game for the club.

Last weekend, the 36-year-old was honoured by Kaizer Chiefs after spending 25 years at the club. The event felt like a farewell, but the club and the player insisted afterwards that it was just a show of appreciation.

Despite the club announcing their intentions days in advance, hardly anyone showed up, and everyone involved was left with egg on their face.

For many, it was a reminder that Khune has overstayed his welcome, and should either be sitting on a beach somewhere sipping non-alcoholic margarita, or finishing out his career playing regularly for one of the DStv Premiership’s smaller teams.

IOL Sport takes a look at some of the highs and lows from what has been a brilliant career by one of South Africa’s greatest ever goalkeepers.

Highs

Debut season

Itumeleng Khune’s debut season saw Kaizer Chiefs win their second consecutive league title during the 2004/05 season. He wasn’t a regular, but the few appearances he made had fans buzzing, and reminded them of “Spider-man” Brian Baloyi. That’s when he earned his “Spider-kid” nickname.

When Baloyi left, Khune inherited his number 16 jersey, but he would spend a number of years behind Rowen Fernandez in the pecking order. When Fernandez left for Germany in 2007, Khune beat out Emile Baron for the starting job, and he never looked back.

Countless league titles

Khune has had a brilliant career that’s seen him pick up a number of league winners’ medals since making his debut for the club back in 2004.

During the 2012/13 and 2014/15 seasons, he was the captain when they pipped their challengers to the title. In those years, he was at his very best, playing in behind an impenetrable defence that featured the likes of Tefu Mashamaite, Eric Mathoho, Morgan Gould and Lorenzo Gordinho.

In those years, Kaizer Chiefs were beautiful to watch.

International praise

Khune’s performances during the 2009 Confederations Cup, and 2010 Fifa World Cup earned the goalkeeper some praise from some of the biggest names in the game.

Pepe Reina, who was playing for Liverpool at the time, and was a member of the all-conquering Spanish side, was impressed with Khune’s distribution. Many were even tipping the Bafana shot-stopper of making a move to Europe. But that never materialised.

Lows

World Cup red card

At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Khune was shown a red card in Bafana Bafana’s loss to Uruguay at Loftus. That made him only the second goalkeeper in the history of the sport, after Italy’s Gianluca Pagliuca, to be given his marching orders during a World Cup game. Wales’ Wayne Hennessey became the third in 2022.

His red card allowed Diego Forlan to make it 2-0 from the spot, and the South Americans would make the numerical advantage work for them as they secured a convincing 3-0 win.

Afcon failure dance of shame

Khune was front and centre when Bafana Bafana players celebrated what they thought was their qualification to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

After a 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone at Mbombela Stadium, Bafana players thought they had done enough to secure passage to the continental showpiece, and they happily danced after the game. Unfortunately, someone got the maths wrong and Khune and Bafana missed out of Afcon, costing then coach Pitso Mosimane his job.

The first time he left Kaizer Chiefs

Khune actually left Kaizer Chiefs when his contract expired back in 2015. This was at a time when he was heavily linked with a move to Europe or Mamelodi Sundowns.

It was thought that being a free transfer would have been a more attractive prospect, but nothing happened. He never moved to Europe, and Sundowns didn’t pick up their phone. So, he went back to Chiefs.

Injuries

There’s no doubt that Khune’s career was badly affected by injuries. He was well on his way to 100 international caps. His 2014 injury saw him lose his Bafana number one jersey and captaincy to the late Senzo Meyiwa. He’s never been the same player since.

He only managed two seasons as Kaizer Chiefs’ undisputed first choice after that. Since 2018/19, he’s been a bit-part player at best at club level.

Alcohol suspension

There’s a film on Netflix where Zola Xaluva plays an ageing football star who can’t deal with his diminishing abilities that he sinks deep into the bottle. Last year’s debacle, where Khune was stripped of the captaincy and suspended by the club after arriving to training drunk, was just another dark mark in an otherwise brilliant career. That incident reminds one of the Netflix film.

Khune has had a great career. Perhaps it’s time he started thinking about hanging up his boots. He doesn’t want to become one of those legends who hang around too long.

IOL Sport

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