Fifteen years ago, Itumeleng Khune (26) was changed from striker to defender to goalkeeper. Daniel Mothowagae traces Khune’s rise through those who helped shape his career.
Jacob “Terror” Sephooa
Former Chiefs development coach
A1999 Kaizer Chiefs Under-13 team picture adorns the wall of the legendary Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows great at his Zuurbekom farmstead.
He points at a boy in a green goalkeeper jersey, whom he refers to as “a talent that I almost did not discover”.
He retold how he rejected Khune during mass trials because the aspirant 12-year-old was not good enough, despite trying out as a striker and a defender.
“He didn’t make the grade as a striker, but because he was a bit taller with broad shoulders, I gave him another chance and tried him in defence,” said Sephooa, who these days juggles livestock and crop farming with his job as head of the Silver Star Casino football academy.
“It was actually one of the club staff members who alerted me to a boy (Khune) who was crying hysterically because he had failed the trial, and what was more painful was that he came from far.
So I invited Khune to our shooting practice, where he showed his agility at guarding stray balls behind the goal!
“He was so good, I told him: ‘My boy, you’ll be our keeper as of today.’
“We had just established an under-13 side and I’m so glad he has developed into the best goalkeeper in the country now.”
Brian “Spiderman” Baloyi
Former Chiefs and Sundowns goalkeeper
‘Bra Terror used to tell me: ‘I have a young goalie who flies like you! He’s a Spider!’” said Baloyi this week. And that’s how Khune’s “Spider Kid” monicker came about.
“Itu was about 15 years old when we met for the first time. We took a picture together during the academy players’ awards ceremony and he has it framed and hung on the wall at his parents’ home (in Tshing, Ventersdorp, North West).
“I also grew up admiring great keepers such as Isaac Chirwa, Deshi Bakhtawer and Mark Anderson. It’s an honour for me if younger goalkeepers looked up to me. I would really love to see Itu achieve his dream of playing overseas. He finds fault in his game even after a good performance and this is a sign of someone who wants to achieve more. Age is on his side as keepers mature around 28 to 30.”
Former SA Under-23 coach
Komphela gave Khune a break in 2005 when building the team for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
He was not even a regular at Chiefs then.
He amassed 16 caps under Komphela and kept goal in five out of the six Olympic Games qualifiers.
“I don’t think I’m the right person to comment on Itu except to
say I’m one of those who can only look at his achievements with pride,” said Komphela.
“He is on the pinnacle of the work that started in 2005. We were trying to create a base for the nation when we gave as many goalkeepers as possible a chance at the Under-23s.
“We settled for Itu and Senzo because they had almost the same attributes due to their technical abilities,” he said.
The friendship between Khune and Meyiwa spans over a decade.
Their bond was born out of a call-up to the national Under-17 side by then coach Serame Letsoaka in 2002, and the duo were reunited at the Under-23 level three years later.
“Itu and I have a special relationship and I won’t forget how he spoilt me after he received his first bonus at Chiefs, when they won the SAA Supa8 in 2006. He said he had never seen such a big balance in his bank account and he took me out for lunch at KFC and even bought me groceries!
“We used to offer one another a chance by taking turns during our time at the junior national teams.
“Even during the period when we were not in the national team setup, we frequently met at matches between our development teams and the relationship strengthened when we got promoted to the Premiership – and Bafana Bafana.”
Chiefs goalkeeper trainer
When Amakhosi’s regular goalkeeper Emile Baron was injured after just two matches into the 2007/8 season, Dinkelacker unleashed the ace up his sleeve.
“Coach Muhsin Ertugral wanted us to field Austrian Markus Bocskor but I said to him, ‘Coach believe me, Itu is ready,’” the 64-year-old German revealed this week.
“I saw potential in Itu when we started working together in 2006. He and Thela Ngobeni used to come to my training sessions when they were still with the junior team. I believe Itu’s abilities and awareness are on the same level as those of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Like Casillas, he is not so tall and he gets experience and matures by playing regularly.
“There is no doubt that Itu is the best passer of the ball in the country. It is sad that I’m leaving Chiefs in December. I was so emotional when Itu gave me his Goalkeeper of the Season trophy as a token of appreciation for all the years we have worked together.”