Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Bafana Bafana goalkeeper DARREN KEET talks about AFCON qualification, why Percy Tau has the football world at his feet and if Wits can win the Absa Premiership this term.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up AFCON 2019 qualification?
Darren Keet: We enjoyed the qualification campaign and are looking forward to AFCON 2019 in Egypt. The current Bafana Bafana squad is made up of a good group of players, who want to achieve things. I foresee it being an interesting few years for the team. I’m proud of the fact that we got the job done against Libya in Sfax. Their fans and the referee made it difficult for us, but we did well to get through all of it. We got the result we wanted, so the rest doesn’t matter. Overall, we fared well in the qualification campaign (Bafana Bafana won three and drew three matches) and it was nice to finish it off with an away win. Qualifying for AFCON 2019 is the first step towards qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Qualifying for AFCON shows what we are capable of as a team and, if we stick together as a core, I believe we will only get better. It’s hard to say why the national team didn’t do as well as everybody expected them to in the past. That would be a question the governing body would have to answer. From a player perspective, we can only focus on the now. People were negative about Bafana for a while, but that has blown over. Now everyone thinks Bafana are a great team again. As a collective, we want to be as good as we can be and, as a player, I am no different.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your personal contribution?
Darren Keet: It was very nice to play (as Bafana Bafana’s number one) against Libya. We all want to be playing and the goal is to be the first name on the team sheet. However, the main aim is that we want to do well together. We have got some good goalkeepers and are not too worried about that department. I think anyone that would have played on the day would have done well. I wouldn’t say my saves against Libya were spectacular – I just try to be confident in what I can do and back my own abilities. Post-match, I saw it (the topic trending on Twitter) about all the things I could save. It’s nice to see the good stuff on social media and people like to have a laugh, but I’m not too bothered about it. I take the good with the bad because I know that some people will praise me and others will criticise me. As a player I look at it and say, “I am not going to let your opinion of me affect the way I do things.” I think myself, Itumeleng Khune and Ronwen Williams are all slightly different goalkeepers and offer different specialties. Overall, we have always worked well together and have no problem with whoever plays. It will be up to Stuart Baxter to decide who starts at AFCON 2019.
Sport24 asked: Will it be helpful for Bafana to go in as underdogs?
Darren Keet: It’s always good to go in as underdogs and I can’t actually remember when Bafana Bafana have ever gone into a tournament as favourites. At the end of the day, there are a number of countries that have qualified which no one ever expected to in a million years, so I definitely expect there to be a few dark horses. It shows that on the day, any team can upset the odds. The North African teams always make themselves the favourites, which is why people look at them as favourites. They are arrogant and think that they should win everything… It’s easy to support a team that’s winning, but it’s the hardest thing to support a team that hasn’t always done well. I would ask the fans to show their support before we have even achieved anything. I want the team to be supported the way we should be supported. It was pleasing to see the supporters at OR Tambo International Airport to welcome us back from Tunisia, and they better be there when we leave for Egypt because that is when we need them the most. It will give us motivation to want to do well because we know they will be behind us. We have got to take the tournament in our stride, put our best foot forward and make sure we compete. As the coach said, we will let everyone know that we aren’t there to be tourists. I think we are very able to compete against the best teams in Africa. We showed it when we beat Nigeria and Libya away. People might not look at Libya as one of the best teams in Africa, but they are a tough outfit to play against and we dealt with that difficult situation.
Sport24 asked: How good do you believe Percy Tau can become?
Darren Keet: I’m not a fortune-teller but, in terms of what Percy has to offer at the moment, it’s really exciting. He is showing what he is capable of for his club side in Belgium and with Bafana. The goals he scored against Libya were really well-taken and it came down to complete attacking awareness. He knew where he was, where the defenders were and he made the most of the space around him. One of the strong points in his game is that when he is in a tight space, he can get out of it. And, when he has got his own space, he can utilise it and always make something out of it. He scored two great goals working the angles and I think he will take the step up and play in the English Premier League at some stage. He has a part of his game that he can definitely take there and he always has something to offer no matter what league in the world he plays in. A player like him has got to believe in himself and know that he is good enough. At the moment, I think he is not short on confidence. He knows what he is capable of and plays to his own strengths. If he can take that to wherever he goes and plays in England that will be fantastic for him. In my opinion, Percy is like Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero – he is small in stature and not too physical, but he is a goal-scorer.
Sport24 asked: How was your time abroad and why did you return?
Darren Keet: I signed for K.V. Kortrijk when I was a 21-year-old and spent five seasons in Belgium. My wife Sandra and I loved our stay in Belgium and our son Leighton was born there. Overall, it was a good experience and playing abroad was something I wanted to do since I was young. The football was good and it definitely improved me as a player. However, after five years spent at the same club, we ran into some issues and it became difficult to stay. There were negative aspects around the relationship between the head coach and his assistant. They didn’t like each other and I decided I didn’t really want to be there at that time and was ready for a bit of a change. Bidvest Wits showed their interest in me and they were an ambitious team that were looking to win trophies. It was the perfect option and I decided to return to South Africa. I had a coach in Gavin Hunt, who wanted me, so I said to myself: “Why not come back to South Africa and see how things go?” Since returning in 2016, we’ve won three trophies and hopefully we can kick on this season and win more silverware.
Sport24 asked: How do Hunt’s methods compare with Baxter’s?
Darren Keet: It’s difficult to compare them as coaches. Gavin is his own man and so is Stuart. Both mentors have different styles of coaching. Everyone knows Gavin as a hard man and that is how he has won his trophies because he makes his players harder. He believes in his way of thinking and it rubs off on us as players and gives us belief. He is very hard on the players, but coaches that are hard always want the best for their team and Gavin, who is no different, expects nothing but the best from us. Gavin is quite a tough customer to please so any compliment you get from him is always good. I haven’t worked with Stuart for too long, but he is a good coach with the players and treats us well. When we assemble for national duty we don’t have a lot of time to spend together. He understands that and plans his work accordingly. All in all, it’s nice to work with both of them and I have learned different things from all the coaches I have worked with over the course of my career.
Sport24 asked: Do you believe Wits can win the league this season?
Darren Keet: You have to believe you can become champions because if you don’t then you are in the wrong business. We are in with a mathematical chance and are so lucky that results have gone our way of late. We have got to make sure that we win our next six matches and then the league is there for the taking. If we give everything we have then we can’t look back at the end of the season and say, “It was because of this or that that we didn’t win the league.” Each match is a Cup final for us now. There is everything to play for against Pirates on Saturday. (Wits are in second place on the Premiership table, while Pirates are in third spot with a game in hand). Other results have gone our way of late (with Sundowns and Pirates playing out a goalless draw). At the moment, we are still waiting to see what happens with (top-placed) Sundowns, but it’s not something we are too worried about. We have to get a win at all costs against the Buccaneers. I’m hoping we can keep a clean sheet for once because we’ve been struggling with that. As a goalkeeper, you don’t want to concede goals and it’s always off-putting when you do. If we don’t leak too many goals, I’m sure we can win.