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Khune top of the class

Kaizer Chiefs are on the verge of clinching their first league title since 2005. While it has certainly been a team effort in ‘reclaiming the glory’ this season, one man’s name is on the lips of every Amakhosi fan – Itumeleng Khune.

From a technical standpoint, Khune has, for a while now, been the best goalkeeper in the league. In terms of his ball distribution he is not just one of the best in South Africa but in the world game.

However, the added responsibility of captaincy has moulded him into a complete player. What strikes me most is just how much he has matured as a player and person this season.

He has toned down his antics – most notably his timewasting – and has become a true leader of men. While he isn’t afraid to let his voice be heard, he is very much a player who lets his football do the talking.

I believe that if a player wants to become and remain a successful skipper you have be on top of your game week-in and week-out in order to earn your teammates’ respect. Khune has passed this test. He doesn’t just talk a good game, he delivers on a consistent basis.

I also feel that he has done really well to adapt to an often changing Chiefs back four this season owing to injuries and suspensions. Khune has been the one ever-present in the side and for me he is hands down PSL Player of the Season.

Away from the field, he also carries himself with class. He understands that captaining Chiefs is a massive honour and responsibility. In my view, Kaizer Chiefs is a footballing institution much like Manchester United.

Amakhosi fans make up around a third of the support base in South Africa and therefore as a captain of one of the most prestigious clubs in world football you have to understand you serve as an ambassador. Your actions on-field and off are magnified, which makes it even more important to keep your head down and work hard.

Khune may only be 25 years old but I don’t believe age is the sole determinant of a successful leader. The man born in Ventersdorp has been part of Chiefs’ senior setup since 2004 and would thus have learned invaluable lessons from past captains.

Khune has a strong understanding of the clubs’ identity and is engaging with the media and supporters. Especially in the professional era, with more media and TV coverage than ever before, it’s important to give of your time graciously. This is yet another box Khune ticks.

While Khune is top of the class in the local league, I believe that he needs to head abroad to take his game to the next level.

In South Africa, he is a big fish in a relatively small pond but overseas he would be a tiny tadpole in a huge pond. While it’s always a risk to leave behind your comfortable lifestyle and earnings in SA, I believe the rewards far outweigh the risks.

I do feel that a portion of the modern generation of players in Mzansi lack genuine ambition to leave behind their comfort zones in order to make a success of their careers overseas. I do hope that Khune doesn’t fall into this trap.

The reality is that you will basically have to start from scratch and some players may think: I’ve already done my hard labour why do I have to prove myself all over again? My answer is simple: As a footballer you constantly have to keep challenging yourself in order to evolve.

There is no doubt the standard of the PSL has improved immensely but our league can’t beat those in Europe in terms of tempo.

I believe Khune would adapt well if he headed, for example, to a team in the English Premier League. In the UK, players pepper the goalkeeper with plenty of crosses, so the aerial side of his game – which needs the most work – would undoubtedly improve.

Khune wouldn’t be out of place even at one of the top clubs in the English Premier League.

For me, he is in the same mould as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Neither are the most physically imposing of goalkeepers but their reflexes, agility and shot-stopping are second to none.

The Red Devils spotted De Gea’s potential and while the 22-year-old endured a rocky start to his Old Trafford career he has quickly grown in stature.

If Khune opted to head abroad, I have no doubt he’d reach the summit of world football just like his Spanish counterpart.

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