KAIZER Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter will not start the year by making changes to his goalkeeping department before the Absa Premiership league resumes in February. He says Itumeleng Khune will have to earn his place – throwing him back into the starting line-up ahead of Brilliant Khuzwayo just because he has become available would not be the right way.
The 27-year-old Khune missed a number of Amakhosi’s games this season after picking up a stress fracture while on Bafana Bafana duty, but has since returned to action and was back in Amakhosi’s starting XI for their recent international friendly against German Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim.
The absence of Khune at the MTN8 final against arch-rivals Orlando Pirates was much hyped, but Khuzwayo stepped up to the plate and starred for Chiefs on the day. The KZN-born goal-minder was very convincing; silencing those who thought Chiefs would not be up to it in the goalkeeping department without their injured captain.
Since then, it has been Khuzwayo who has deputised for Khune, putting in a number of good performances and leading Chiefs to 13 league games unbeaten. For his efforts, Khuzwayo was one of the three keepers picked by Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba for the ongoing African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
Baxter explained the current situation: “Yes, Itu has been back for a long time now, but he is not just going to walk into the team. I think he knows he has a fight on his hands. As long as the team is winning and Brilliant is playing well, the No 1 shirt belongs to him. “Brilliant has been doing well and has lifted his game. He deserves to be in the team.”
Khune is still regarded as one of the best shot-stoppers in the country – but his return from injury has caused ripples. There has been talk that Khune and Chiefs have been negotiating for months over a new contract, with reports linking him with Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates respectively.
Said Baxter: “Itu has been working hard since we came back from the break”. His advisors are still to meet with management and the management will tell me the results of their meeting. If we can meet on common ground it would be great and if we can’t, I will address it at that time.”
Image credit: SABC