Robson Sharuko in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
THE clock had barely touched 6am yesterday, on a gloomy rainy morning here, but the intensity of the raging debate was providing a sparkle of heat in the lobby of the plush Sandton Sun Hotel.
After a night, in which the majority of the residents of South Africa’s biggest city had slept in darkness, with Eskom implementing massive load-shedding, emotions were certainly running high.
Three days after the 116th edition of the Soweto Derby ended in a 1-1 stalemate, the big question dominating the conversation in that hotel lobby was the dominant narrative in this country since that game ended.
What has happened to Khama Billiat?
It’s a question both Mark Gleason, the SuperSport commentator of that big match, and his analyst William Shongwe had also asked live on television.
Something just doesn’t seem right with Billiat and the dominant monster, who was the heart and soul of Mamelodi Sundowns, appear to have been replaced by someone devoid of confidence and struggling to reignite the spark that made him virtually unplayable at the Brazilians.
The Khama of Kaizer Chiefs appears different from the Billiat of Sundowns and where he could fly for the Brazilians, he appears devoid of the wings, at the Amakhosi, which used to propel him to greatness. He earned the penalty that Chiefs scored from but the spark, which has been a huge identity of his game, and the confidence to take on defenders and beat them, appeared to have deserted him. There were questions about his form going into the big match screened in more than 40 countries that day.
“Khama Billiat is seven months into his new job as a Kaizer Chiefs player, but he’s yet to hit the form that saw him inspire Mamelodi Sundowns to African dominance two years ago,” journalist Mihlali Baleka had written in The Saturday Star on the day of the match.
“But if Chiefs need a messiah today, the Zimbabwe forward has vowed to deliver the Glamour Boys to the ‘promised land’.
“In the seven months Khama has been at Chiefs he’s done it all. He has gone from being worshipped and publicly bowed to, to an extent that one would think he is the son of the king who is the jersey’s insignia, and to a player who found himself kicking his heels on the bench.”
And Billiat had responded to those concerns over his form.
“It could be worse if l went into this game without people expecting something from me,” he told The Saturday Star.
“From the day you join this club, the expectations are high, even if you play a friendly game, you have to do something.
“We enjoy pressure, it is beautiful and when you are successful it is positive. Everyone likes to score but at the end of the day the team comes first. For me I really enjoy assisting more than scoring, it makes me feel good.”
But, after a lukewarm show on Saturday, the questions have been piling on about Billiat’s form and whether his play fits into the Chiefs model.
One South African national newspaper gave him the lowest score (4) among all the players who featured in that Derby and were ruthless in their assessment of his performance.
“Billiat can be a match winner but that is increasingly a rare occurrence,” the newspaper said. “He was supposed to play closer to Leonardo Castro and try and pick off the second ball but very quickly he drifted off cue and was ineffective.” Chiefs bought him to try and help him win matches like this one but, in two Soweto Derbies this season, he and his teammates came short.
In the first league match in October last year, Billiat opened the scoring but Pirates hit back to win the game 2-1 and on Saturday he won the penalty but the Buccaneers replied for a share of the spoils.
It’s now 12 games since Chiefs last beat Pirates in the Derby. In sharp contrast, Zimbabwean defender Teenage Hadebe received a glowing assessment for the way he performed on Saturday and topped the marks with eight out of 10.
“Many timely tackles and some gutsy challenges as he took many knocks,” read his match report.
“He is quickly convincing new coach Ernst Middendorp he is the best centre-back that Chiefs have.”
Billiat’s form, or lack of it, was the dominant narrative on Twitter in South African football yesterday.
“The Khama Billiat of Kaizer Chiefs is not the same as the one we watched at Sundowns,” wrote @Nkuna_tha6th.
“I wish the coach (could) play attacking football with the likes of Zuma, Mahlaseka and Ntshangase cause these are the kind of players Billiat connects (with)”.
Mzinza Lumkile said: “Chiefs signed a wrong Khama or was Sundowns feeding him something to perform and now Bobby is too stingy to buy him his feed that made him the best?” Mlandela Nini said the coach came up “with a surprising line-up and it was brilliant, only Khama Billiat was not doing well in that line-up.”
While Moses Moreroa argued Billiat once again failed to justify the buzz that followed his move to Chiefs.
“The most paid player in the ABSA Premiership Khama Billiat has been, in recent past, notorious for three things, namely, diving, off-side and missing the target.” But Billiat has been defiant and says there is a reason Chiefs decided to bring him on board.
“We are not employed by luck, (it’s) because the club’s management have seen something special in each and every individual and no one is better than the other, we are all important,” he told The Saturday Star. He still has a lot of followers, including some who displayed a Zimbabwean flag at the FNB Stadium on Saturday and a banner that read, “KING KHAMA.”
Even in that lobby at the Sandton Sun yesterday, there were some who argued he hasn’t yet plunged into the darkness that enveloped their city the previous night.
Source : The Herald