Itumeleng Khune fell out of love with the game, his Kaizer Chiefs coach Gavin Hunt said of his Bafana Bafana goalkeeper who so recently experienced heartbreaking personal tragedy with the death of his sister in a fire.
Khune (33) was given leave before the past Fifa international date after the death of sister Mapula Khune, 27, on March 4. He made a return to play off the bench when Daniel Akpeyi was red-carded in the 40th minute of Chiefs’ brave nine-man 1-0 Caf Champions League win against Wydad Casablanca at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Khune’s much-documented struggles with fitness, injuries and form for the past three years have seen a keeper for whom removal from the national and Chiefs No 1 keeper’s positions seemed unthinkable, earn significantly less game time at his club.
Finally, on the back of Khune’s personal tragedy last month, Hunt became the first Chiefs coach to express what many had believed – that the ex-Bafana gloveman had seemingly lost interest in the game in recent years.
Hunt was asked if – given Akpeyi will be suspended in Chiefs’ final Champions League Group C game in Conakry, Guinea, on Saturday – Khune will start in Amakhosi’s DStv Premiership match-up against Stellenbosch FC at FNB Stadium on Tuesday.
Chiefs’ coach said he would have to think about that; then, appearing visibly affected by the tragedy that has befallen his goalkeeper, gave an unusually frank assessment of what he felt has afflicted Khune’s career, and revealed he has had conversations with the keeper about it.
“I’ll think about that in the next day or two. I mean, he’s had a hell of a time in his life, you know, with what’s happened,” Hunt said.
“But he’s one who, I can see he’s coming back mentally.
“I always felt Itu’s problem – and I’ve said it to him, I don’t hide it – is that I think he fell out of love with the game. You know, you’ve got to love the game.
“And sometimes it happens in football careers, and sometimes you need a jolt. And what’s happened to him off the field is tragic.
“ Maybe I’ve seen a certain something that’s coming back. Mentally and love for the game.
“You’ve got to go to training every day and love it. We’ve spoken about it, we speak about it.”
Chiefs’ win against Wydad, which also saw Samir Nurković sent off in the 89th minute, and Bernard Parker scoring the 48th-minute winner, left them needing a result in Conakry.
The head-to-head ruling means Amakhosi can draw with goals scored, or must win, to reach the quarterfinals.
A win for Horoya, who drew 0-0 in Johannesburg, or a goalless draw, would see the Guinean outfit, who have a better goal difference in Group C, progress.