WARRIORS and Mamelodi Sundowns star forward Khama Billiat admits to player fatigue, but strongly believes the Brazilians can mentally overcome their struggles to power on in their quest for glory in the South African Premiership.
Sundowns have not had a proper ‘off-season’ break since the end of the 2014-15 season, having continued all the way to becoming African champions for the first time in the club’s history when they overcame Egyptian giants Zamalek in a two-legged 2016 Champions League final.
This year, they have again qualified for the group stages of the continent’s premier club competition, and once again risk not having a few weeks off ahead of the 2017/18 domestic season.
Pitso Mosimane’s side recently went on a five-game winless run, managing only one goal during that period, before they finally managed to turn their fortunes around by putting five goals past city rivals SuperSport United in their league tie last week.
Billiat scored a brace in that thumping win in the Tshwane derby against SuperSport.
The reigning South African Premiership Player of the Year also provided the assist as Sundowns edged Free State Stars 1-0 on Sunday.
But the Brazilians are looking more and more like a worn-down outfit as league catch-up games continue to pour in, with their next assignment a re-match with Matsatsantsa tomorrow night.
Billiat, who recently returned from injury and is still rediscovering his devastating form that saw him walk away with his hands full at last season’s Absa Premiership awards, believes fatigue is just a small hurdle on their road to success, and says a good attitude and mental strength can carry them through the finish line.
“Fatigue is always going to be there but you can still win games with fatigue if your mind is right, if you’re well-managed and you’re hungrier than people that aren’t fatigued,” Billiat said.
“I think we have played more games and we should be well motivated, knowing that this is our life — you’re always going to play more games than others if you want to live in the Champions circle.”
Having been knocked out of the Nedbank Cup by Golden Arrows, the 26-year-old former Ajax Cape Town man admits facing tougher challenges against ‘small teams’, but emphasises that they cannot afford to be selective of which teams they perform against and which teams they can relax for.
“Playing small teams is more difficult because they all just want to beat you, every game we don’t look at it differently – this is Arrows, this is Chiefs — they’re all the same,” he adds.
“In fact, Arrows give you an even harder challenge than Chiefs because they just want to beat Sundowns, they want to beat a big team, and everyone wants that so it becomes harder.
“We don’t have games whereby we can choose — this one we can play a little bit, this one we can play more — we just have to be on top of our game, every game, because you get a shock of your life if you go to a game thinking it’s a small team and they give efforts of big players.”
Billiat refused to complain that they have played over 40 games so far this season, and instead feels it comes as an advantage as they have gained more experience than their counterparts over the last 10 months.
“I think it helps (that we’ve played more games). You see more of your mistakes and get to rectify them in between the games. The more you play the more experience you get to see more things than other teams playing fewer games,” he argued.
“We should take advantage of that, although it will catch up to us but let it catch up while we have experience and know how to deal with one game rather than not being able to play more games.”
Billiat’s long season also included an international assignment with the Warriors at the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon in January where he featured for Callisto Pasuwa’s men in their winless run at the continental soccer showpiece.
Pasuwa had been one of the first coaches to sound warning shots about Billiat feeling the effects of a congested fixture programme when he rested him from the Warriors last Nations Cup qualifier against Guinea in Conakry in September last year.
While Billiat has to deal with fatigue that comes with playing many matches, his countryman and Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Edmore Chirambadare is yearning for more game time as he settles down at Amakhosi.
The midfielder who is slowly making his imprint at Chiefs has also received the backing of former Amakhosi midfielder Frank Makua who has called for patience with the Zimbabwean.
Makua who made 91 appearances for Chiefs between 1995-2000 and scored four goals says Chirambadare needs to be given more time to settle in and acclimatise to conditions in the PSL.
“I think we have to give the guy a chance. He is from Zimbabwe and you can’t compare the two leagues. Let’s give him a chance for a season because he is at a big team and then see afterwards if he is going to deliver,” Makua told Goal.
The former Chicken Inn player joined Chiefs at the start of the season for an undisclosed fee along with countryman Katsvairo, and Makua believes that Chirambadare will deliver because he has the pace and skill to do so.
“For me, he is not a bad player. Given a fair chance, he will deliver. He has got the pace and skill. It’s just that he needs to work on his concentration because sometimes it lapses during games,” he said.
“I don’t know whether he is scared sometimes because he just tends to freeze when it matters most. He has not proved himself, but he is a good player.”
‘Disco’ also weighed on Chiefs’ chances of winning the league title saying Amakhosi need to play more as a collective than individuals to have any chance of clinching it.
“The league is still wide open and it’s going to be a mountain to climb (for anyone to win it). But they have to work hard as a team and not as individuals and that’s when they can go all the way and win it,” Makua said. sport reporter/kickoff.com/goal.com