By Grace Chingoma
Italian coach Giovanni Solinas is over the moon with his affection for Khama Billiat and has described the Zimbabwean international as Kaizer Chiefs’ version of Barcelona star Lionel Messi.
Billiat has immediately established himself as the Amakhosi talisman since moving to the Soweto giants at the start of the season.
The former Sundowns man’s arrival has coincided with that of Solinas and the Italian has now looked to build his team around Billiat as Chiefs seek to end a three-year drought for silverware.
Solinas told the South African media that the kind of impact that Billiat has on Chiefs is similar to that which Argentine captain Messi has on Spanish giants Barcelona.
The Italian revealed yesterday that he is impressed with how his side has turned the corner after picking nine points in their last three league matches.
But the expatriate coach has once again singled out Billiat who appears to have rediscovered the kind if blistering form that saw him sweep the Super Diski Best Player award two years ago.
Billiat, has so far scored three league goals and has helped to lead Chiefs into third position and a point shy of pacesetters Orlando Pirates who have 14.
The Warriors midfielder, is playing with so much conviction with a number of neutrals already tipping him to have another outstanding season should he maintain that form.
Billiat’s exploits have done enough to charm his coach who has made no secret of his affection for the star forward.
“Khama is the best player in the PSL and he’s one of those rare players who makes the difference,” said Solinas.
With results now coming up for his team who are playing as a coordinated unit, the pressure is off coach and his players.
Solinas, however, told the club website that he still wants more from the former champions, who beat Amazulu 2-0 in a Premiership match over the weekend.
“We dominated the game and created a lot of chances. Everything is positive. However, we have to keep our feet on the ground and continue to work hard to improve even further.”
“We started with a handicap,” the Italian reflects, “because I didn’t really have a pre-season with the squad. Then there were a lot of games — play, play, play. The FIFA break helped us to fix some mistakes and to understand the philosophy that I want the team to play to.
“I am happy with the result against AmaZulu and above all about the manner we played. It wasn’t easy though, as they have a good team and they did well against Mamelodi Sundowns last week.
“It’s great to win three games in a row, but that should be normal for Kaizer Chiefs.
“The players show commitment in training and are eager to learn and improve. We just have to continue doing this. I am an optimist — our spectators haven’t seen the best of Kaizer Chiefs as yet,” said Solinas.
The Warriors technical crew will be closely monitoring Billiat’s exploits as much as they would for the players they are looking to call up for Zimbabwe’s blockbuster African Cup of Nations clashes against the Democratic Republic of Congo next month.
Billiat scored in the Warriors 1-1 draw against Congo in another Nations Cup assignment in Brazzaville early this month, with the 28-year-old shaking off an injury to feature in that encounter.
The Warriors poster boy also received plaudits from his former coach at Mamelodi Sundowns — Pitso Mosimane.
Mosimane, speaking after Sundowns’ 1-0 win over Golden Arrows, commended Billiat for his maturity as a player.
The former Bafana Bafana gaffer explained how players have developed and matured at Sundowns, making extra mention of Percy Tau, Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly and Billiat.
Mosimane said many players need time to adjust when coming in to a club of Sundowns’ stature, although having worked with the likes of Dolly, Khama and Zungu at a young age, the trio were able to find a career abroad.
It is the maturity he has detected in Billiat and his capacity to perform his best even at 28 that has impressed Mosimane.
“Khama came to us when he was 23 and the level he is right now you can see he has matured he is a very good player, we worked on him for five years,” Mosimane said.
Billiat has seen a bright start with Kaizer Chiefs this season, having already scored five goals in all competitions since joining the Soweto giants ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
But the good form is not only restricted to Billiat in the South African Premiership with Warriors teammate and SuperSport United forward Evans Rusike also enjoying his place in the sun.
SuperSport climbed the fifth position on the table.
“A lot is going through my mind, I can’t describe the feeling. But it’s a happy feeling. As a footballer, you want to win something.
“When I left Maritzburg, they went to the (Nedbank Cup) final and you feel like ‘if I was there I was going to do something for them’.
“But God has his own ways and he was waiting for me to be in this final. I just can’t wait for the final to come and just do my best to get the medal,” Rusike said.
Away in China, Nyasha Mushekwi grabbed a brace as he continues with his scoring spree in the Chinese Super League.
Mushekwi, found the target in the 12th minute and 85th minute to help Dalian Yifang beat Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 at home.
Yifang playing in their first season in the national league have sprinted away from the relegation zone, courtesy of the Zimbabwean’s goals after a slow start.
The club is now on 10th position in the 16-team league.
Mushekwi, who is playing with an injury, is currently the club’s top marksman with 12 goals and is among the league’s top 10 forwards.
Shanghai SIPG’s Lei Wu leads the Golden Boot with 21 goals.