HaKhune Motataby Daniel Friedman / 15.05.2010
Coming from a background of entertainment journalism, it’s hard not to feel slightly sorry for soccer players. They are confronted with just as many clicking cameras and people who either want an interview or an autograph. But unlike musicians, actors and comics, who live for the attention, thrive on it, and can’t function without it, most soccer players give the impression of being normal guys who happen to be abnormally good at the game they play. Bafana Bafana and Chiefs goalie Itumeleng Khune, soft-spoken and shy, proves this point, but he seems to be taking all the attention in his stride. “At first I wasn’t too comfortable in the limelight, but the more you are surrounded by cameras the more you get used to it”, he says.
The man who majestically saved David Villa’s penalty shot in the SA vs Spain game in the group stages of the Confed Cup can’t remember ever wanting to do anything other than play professional soccer. “As soon as I was old enough, if there was a ball around I’d be kicking it. But at first I had no ball of my own. My family noticed how much I loved playing and bought me a one, which then gave me the motivation I needed to keep on doing it. I dreamt of becoming a professional soccer player and I must be blessed, because now that dream has become a reality”.
If this dream seemed unattainable at the time, it must have been all the more so because Khune grew up in the inauspicious town of Ventersdorp. “It’s very hard to make it on a national level coming from a place like that”, he admits. When I ask him about his international soccer heroes he says “Growing up in Ventersdorp I aspired to be like the local players. It was such a small place that we didn’t really get much exposure to international soccer. Our heroes were local legends from local teams. Chiefs was always my team and I never thought at the time I’d have the opportunity to one day play for them”.
Unsurprisingly for a man who has spent his entire career at one club, he is fiercely loyal to Amakhosi, where he plays alongside his brother, Lucky Khune,. “I’m happy there and if I got an oversees offer it would have to be a very special one for me to even consider leaving”.
It was at Chiefs that Khune first became a goalkeeper. “My biggest inspiration was Brian Baloyi, who was the keeper at Chiefs when I started playing there. He inspired me to become a goalkeeper, because I looked up to him a lot, but at that stage I was trying other positions. I can use both feet, so I can play on the left or right and as a striker or defender, so I explored all of these options, until I decided to try the same position as the player I looked up to the most”.
Of course now Khune, as the first choice national goalkeeper, can now meet Baloyi as an equal. “Before the Confed Cup we would have these one on one chats, and he would give me advice and guidance. I was inspired by his style of play before we had even met, and I think I took a lot from it. So it’s great to be at the stage now where we can actually talk”. But Khune is not willing to entertain the idea that he may have now surpassed his mentor. “I have a lot of work to do before I’m on his level”, he says humbly. And, you know what, I don’t think he’s fronting either. He’s a soccer player, not a rock star after all.