There’s more to Kaizer Chiefs head coach Ernst Middendorp’s decision to leave out goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune from the team’s match-day squad than meets the eye.
At least this could be what Middendorp was hinting at when he told City Press this week that “the management of Kaizer Chiefs will probably give a little bit more information” on Khune. He was responding to the increasing calls from a section of the club’s fans for him to reinstate the team’s one-time regular in goal.
Daniel Akpeyi’s place as Chiefs’ No 1 keeper has come under scrutiny after the team let in half a dozen goals in their three matches in the bio-bubble over the past fortnight. This includes Amakhosi’s 3-1 defeat by Bloemfontein Celtic on Wednesday – their heaviest loss in the campaign so far. Last weekend, he shipped in two against Polokwane City, having conceded one against Bidvest Wits three days earlier.
Middendorp has made clear his preference of form over reputation, confirming that he will stick with the under-fire Akpeyi.
“I [have] said several times that Daniel Akpeyi is an experienced goalkeeper [and] has the same experience, if not more, to present for the team in the run for the championship in the PSL.
“As I said before, he is our number one [keeper] and he will be our number one,” the German tactician told City Press.
“I think, regarding Itu, if you need a little bit more in terms of details, I refer you to the management of Kaizer Chiefs, probably they will give a little bit more information. Itu is in training – we have a very clear identification of his current situation; how far is he prepared to go in competition [and] to be prepared for selection. At the moment, what we see from the technical team, I think there is something missing – that is all I can say.”
The 33-year-old Khune, with just four appearances in all competitions this season, has not featured in any of Amakhosi’s three league matches since the resumption of play a fortnight ago.
Instead, the one-time Bafana Bafana No 1 seems to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Bruce Bvuma has served as Akpeyi’s back-up on match days.
With Chiefs’ manager of football Bobby Motaung on suspension for breaching the club’s Covid-19 protocols, City Press tried in vain this week to substantiate the coach’s statement with the club.
Middendorp often gets irritated whenever he is quizzed about Khune’s role in the team. During the post-match conference after Chiefs drew 1-1 with Bidvest Wits a fortnight ago, the 61-year-old said that Khune “missed some training sessions for different reasons”, but he did not elaborate.
“It is simple and easy. There were a number of training days when he couldn’t make it. And today it was Daniel Akpeyi and Bruce. And let’s move forward now and see what’s going on towards the next game,” he said.
But their poor performance against Celtic means Middendorp is again confronted with the same reaction that occurred when Akpeyi’s glaring error led to the team’s loss to Maritzburg United in February.
The fans chanted Khune’s name after that match at FNB Stadium.
Despite this, the coach stood by the Nigerian international, who in return bounced back with a man-of-the-match performance in Chiefs’ 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates in the Soweto derby later that month.
Khune last featured in the team’s Nedbank Cup Last 16 elimination by Highlands Park on penalties in late February, having marked his long-awaited return in the Last 32 against Royal Eagles two weeks earlier.
The coach had said before the tournament that Khune would get a run in the Ke Yona Cup.
While he continues to be the centre of attention despite not playing, Khune has been very active on social media, interacting with his 1.2 million followers on Twitter.
On the morning Chiefs were put to the sword by Celtic, the keeper posted an action shot of himself from the training ground, captioned: “I’m in my happy place ... Genuinely love what I’m doing.”
The post triggered a huge reaction from his multitude of followers.
Spha Ngcobo asked: “Training and not playing, you love that?”
Khune responded: “Always remember that no little effort is a waste ... my love for what I’m passionate about will never go away. #PositiveMindset.”
He also reassured another fan: “Giving up is the last thing on my mind fam [family], I’ll keep on pushing hard.”
The goalminder from Tshing in Ventersdorp in North West has been the undisputed first-choice keeper for Chiefs and Bafana over the past decade. However, injuries have hampered his progress over the past two seasons.
In his absence, Middendorp looked for other options, which included throwing Bvuma into the deep end before Akpeyi was bought from Chippa United in January last year to bring experience to the team.
Akpeyi grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and his command of the starting line-up at Chiefs boosted his place in the national team, where he was the preferred choice in Nigeria’s third-place finish at the Afcon finals last year.
Maritzburg United vs Bidvest Wits
(Tuks Stadium, 3.30pm)
AmaZulu vs Bloemfontein Celtic (Lucas Moripe Stadium, 3.30pm)
Mamelodi Sundowns vs Golden Arrows
(Dobsonville Stadium, 6pm)
Black Leopards vs SuperSport United (FNB Stadium, 6pm)
Bloemfontein Celtic vs Bidvest Wits (Tuks Stadium, 3.30pm)
Kaizer Chiefs vs Mamelodi Sundowns (Orlando Stadium, 6pm)
Stellenbosch vs Chippa United (Tuks Stadium, 6pm)
Orlando Pirates vs SuperSport United (Ellis Park Stadium, 1.30pm)
Highlands Park vs Maritzburg United (Dobsonville Stadium, 1.30pm)
AmaZulu vs Black Leopards
(Lucas Moripe Stadium, 3.30pm)
Golden Arrows vs Cape Town City (Ellis Park Stadium, 6pm)