THEN, LIKE MUHAMMAD ALI IN HIS PRIME, FLOATING LIKE A BUTTERFLY AND STINGING LIKE A BEE

SHARUKO CENTER 5 MARCHTHERE was a striking similarity to the move, that sudden change of pace, a movement so beautiful he looked more of a ballerina than a footballer, the diminutive genius gliding into opposition territory, with devastating consequences, and fuelling great expectations for a country’s Nations Cup dreams.

We saw it last Saturday night, and in that single move, its stunning beauty encrypted in the swagger of its movement, in the dexterity of its artist and, its destructive intensity destroying the Champions League dreams of our brave Gamecocks and a nation that had fallen in love with their adventure.

Then we saw it again on Tuesday night, that signature drift into an open space, a first touch pregnant with assurance and, then, like Muhammad Ali in the prime of his athletic powers, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

As danger loomed, the SuperSport United ‘keeper, Ronwen Williams, advanced from his line, to try and narrow the angle, but — as others had found out in a defining season for this genius attacking his goal area — it was all in vain as the baby-faced assassin, without even breaking stride, curled the ball into the far corner for a beautiful goal.

Khama Billiat, Khamaldinho, our little football genius.

The boy from Mufakose, that football breeding ground that gave us immortals like Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Memory Mucherahowa, a man who rose from humble surroundings to become the greatest captain that Dynamos have ever had, and might ever have, Stanley Ndunduma, to name but just a few of the legends from the ghetto they call Mufombi.

Three days earlier, it had happened again, that drift into an open space, a cultured first touch that gave him absolute ownership of the ball, the instant explosion of the football brain into overdrive, which sent him drifting to the left and then to the right, at pace, as he burst into the danger zone.

Ninety minutes had passed on the clock, he had been hit from the left, from the right, from the back and from the front with everything that the Gamecocks could throw at him, in those one-and-half hours of a fiery battle and, where mere mortals had long lost their energy to fight, let alone run at the levels we had seen at the beginning of this battle, he was suddenly speeding off at searing pace, as if he had just been thrown into the fray as a last-minute replacement.

The Pirelli advert says speed is nothing, without control, and the people who came out with that phrase might have had people like Khama in mind and, at that pace, with such control, he was past the first Chicken Inn defender before he had even extended his blocking foot.

And, as the little magician cleared that hurdle, time appeared to stand still as the harsh reality of what was about to happen dawned upon us, those who were supporting the Gamecocks’ cause, and poor Passmore Bernard, already trailing in a race he knew he would never win, did the only thing he could in the circumstances, clipping Billiat from the back.

The referee, not standing in the best position to make such a key decision, pointed to the spot even though television replays, thanks to the magic of the Explora decoder that helps us not only rewind the action countless of times but, crucially, also freeze the moments, appeared to show that the initial contact might have happened just outside the box.

Katlego Mashego converted the penalty, Mamelodi Sundowns survived to fight another day in the Champions League, the brave Gamecocks dumped by a penalty Joey Antipas called “dodgy,” but not before they had impressed the Brazilians’ gaffer Pitso Mosimane so much he told the world that “THESE ARE NOT FISHERMEN FROM AN ISLAND, THIS IS SERIOUS FOOTBALL AND THEY GAVE US A HARD TIME.”

Pretenders are those athletes who specialise in fluke performances, one-off shows that make us all hold our breath before it all disappears, never to be seen again, but the superstars are the ones who do it again, and again, like Lionel Messi, like Critiano Ronaldo, like Peter Ndlovu, like Moses Chunga, like Michael Jordan, like Tiger Woods, like Wayne Gretzky, like Peyton Manning, like Muhammad Ali.

Of course, Khama isn’t in that bracket of these superstars but, when one talks about footballers plying their trade in Africa today, it’s a fact that he belongs to the elite club of superstars, that is if he is not the very best himself, and that he has been producing top-drawer performances, week-in-and-week-out, has been simply remarkable.

And, the good thing is that Khama isn’t content with the level where he is right now, saying there are defects in his games, deep structural fault lines that he is working to address so that he becomes the footballer that he knows he can be, a man who can carry the load of his nation and, like his hero, Peter Ndlovu, deliver with regularity in that gold-and-green shirt.

He even wants to be like Ronaldo and Messi, such are the high standards he has set for himself, and while it’s unlikely that he will ever reach such superstardom, for goodness sake he turns 26 on August 19 this year and might need a miraculous transformation to get to that world-class level, you can’t fault him for being one who dreams big.

“I want to be like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who score in every match,” he told Kick-Off. “It is no use if I score a goal and we draw. I want to score goals and make a difference but the most important thing for me is to be a player who will score goals for the benefit of the team. That will demand a lot of hard work but I am ready.”

I’m not a Sundowns’ fan but I am a Khama Billiat supporter because he plays for the team of my dreams, the Warriors, and when Mosimane says “this boy has got something,” and Rio Ferdinand says he is special, and I see him glide past defenders week in and week out, it excites me because it brings hope that, finally, we have the quality that can deliver us to the Promised Land of the Nations Cup finals.

Even last Saturday, as I supported the Gamecocks’ cause, I found myself torn in-between, rallying for Chicken Inn to stop Khama but praying that, in doing so, their defenders don’t inflict a long-term injury that could have corrosive residual effect on our 2017 Nations Cup campaign with the forward unable to play against Swaziland later this month.

SADLY, NO ONE GIVES CHITEMBWE CREDIT FOR THE PART HE PLAYED

Have you realised that very little is written about Khama’s stay at CAPS United in 2010, where Lloyd Chitembwe, to his eternal credit, saw that there was something special in the then teenage forward and bravely threw him into the deep end as part of the Green Machine attack?

Go to the Google search engine and try and find images of Khama in CAPS United colours and you are likely to find nothing and, although there is an acknowledgement he played for the Green Machine in 2010, there is nothing else, no statistics about the matches he played or possibly the goals he could have scored.

Admittedly, Khama didn’t stay long at the Green Machine but it needed a good coach like Lloyd Chitembwe, and we should give him credit for that, to realise that there was something special in the young man and introduce him onto the big stage when he was a largely unknown 19-year-old fresh from school.

Given that 2010 was a difficult season for Makepekepe, with the Green Machine eventually finishing sixth in the championship race, losing eight games, I think it’s important that, for all the turbulence that rocked the club, with even some fans repeatedly calling for Chitembwe’s head, we need to compliment him for having the football brain to see that there was something special in the youngster and, crucially, the bravery to throw him into battle.

To imagine that some of the CAPS fans even booed Khama, during that period, questioning whether their coach was still in the right frame of mind, to see anything in that teenage forward, shows the destructive levels of impatience among a section of our supporters, not only limited to the Green Machine fans, which have destroyed many careers of budding players and the coaches who believed in them.

And, this week, as we again saluted the exploits of a football star who is exploding into the real deal, I felt for Chitembwe, the fact that his name never appears anywhere when they talk or write about Khama’s development, with all the compliments now going to the coach who guided him at Ajax Cape Town and his coach at Sundowns.

This game, so beautiful yet so cruel.

Just like Jack Dawson in the Titanic, a poor man not made for the endless parade of parties, yachts and polo matches, our cruel football world ensures that Chitembwe doesn’t belong to the elite group that should be saluted, when it comes to the journey Khama has travelled, even though, crucially, he introduced him onto the big stage.

And, the touching response from Rose, now an old woman, years after she had survived when that monster ship went into the Atlantic and swallowed her true lover Jack Dawson, after she is told by Lewis Bodine that “we never found anything on Jack . . . there’s no record of him at all,” came screaming in my mind this week as I reflected on the unfairness of our world.

“No, there wouldn’t be, would there?” Rose says. “And I’ve never spoken of him until now . . . Not to anyone . . . Not to even your grandfather . . . A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me, in every way that a person can be saved.

“I don’t even have a picture of him, he exists now, only in my memory.”

At least, unlike Rose, we have a picture of Khamaldinho during the days when Chitembwe was giving him his breakthrough, on the big stage, and it tells the whole story of why the coach was very confident, even against a tsunami of backlash from some of the Green Machine fans, who felt the teenage forward was hopeless, that there was something special in this rookie footballer.

The picture, captured by our photographer on June 12, 2010 at Rufaro, shows Khama screaming as he goes down, with the then Hwange captain Mailos Phiri on the ground, having been fooled by this forward’s artistry, leaving him to use unorthodox means, pulling Khamaldinho down with his hands, because that was the only way to stop him charging forward.

It’s such moments, things which Chitembwe used to see Khama doing repeatedly on the training ground, which convinced the coach that there was something special about this boy, that even though he was an unknown 19-year-old back then, the time had come to throw him into the big battles for him to play with the big boys.

Six years later, everyone in South African football is talking about Khama Billiat, and we are doing the same on this side of the Limpopo, and praying every week that the Lord protects this special talent and he remains in prime shape to be part of the cast of Warriors who will plunge into battle against Swaziland this month in two matches that could define our campaign for a place at the 2017 Nations Cup finals.

KHAMA IS THE FOOTBALLER OF THE SEASON IN SOUTH AFRICA

Of course, there is still a big chunk of the South African football season still to be played, the league championship could still be won by another team that is not Mamelodi Sundowns, the Nedbank Cup could end up in the trophy cabinet of another team which aren’t the Brazilians but, even if that happens, there is no doubt that Khama has been the best player in Super Diski and, by a country mile.

Exactly 20 years ago, another Zimbabwe international footballer, Wilfred Mugeyi, was taking the South African Premiership by storm in the colours of Bush Bucks and, in that season, the Silver Fox scored 23 goals to win the Golden Boot award.

He was so irresistible, leading the attack of a modest team based in Umtata, Mugeyi was also named the South African Premier Soccer League Player of the Year while his fellow professionals acknowledged him as the best of the crop by giving him the prestigious Players’ Player of the Year award.

It was a landmark season for our Silver Fox and, the following year, he was on his way to Israel, where he played for Maccabi Haifa, and whether this is a path that Billiat could travel, with the diminutive forward landing in Europe next season, remains to be seen.

But, given that he has done it before, there is no better authority right now to tell us if Khama can make it in Europe and, having worked closely with the player during their time at Ajax Cape Town, Mugeyi knows him quite well and we should listen when he speaks.

“He (Khama) wants to play in Europe and injuries have affected his progress,” Mugeyi told Goal.com last month.

“For him to play in Europe, he has to perform for Sundowns. I hope he stays injury-free (and so do we Wilfred, for the sake of the Warriors).

“He is on top of his game at the moment. He is creating and scoring goals. He has improved a lot, HE IS MY FAVOURITE HORSE AT THE MOMENT.

“He is one of the players that make Sundowns tick (no Wilfred, HE IS THE PLAYER WHO MAKES SUNDOWNS TICK AND, if you doubt that, ask them why they lost in Bulawayo to Chicken Inn when injury ruled him out of that game and why he then made all the difference when he returned for the second leg, creating the first goal and being fouled for the penalty that gave them their second goal?)

“He is starting to show the Khama we all knew who made Sundowns pay big money for (him).”

Yes, Silver Fox, he has been a symbol of excellence and, for us on this side of the Limpopo, all that we are praying for is that the long season doesn’t drain him and he retains the same level, we have been seeing week in and week out, when he wears our national jersey this month.

When our photographer captured that iconic image in Luanda, with Khama in tears, being helped out of the stadium by Peter Ndlovu, then the Warriors’ assistant coach, and fitness trainer Gerald Maguranyanga, little did Khamaldinho know that, in a few years’ time, he would be working together with King Peter at Mamelodi Sundowns.

Khama had a right to cry that day, especially after his heroics in the first leg at Rufaro had destroyed Angola 3-1 to put the Warriors within touching distance of a place at the 2013 Nations Cup finals, before Manucho spoiled his party with that double strike in Luanda.

But, since then, Khama has had the privilege of working closely with the GREATEST WARRIOR of all-time, Captain Peter our inspirational skipper, a gift from the football gods whose wizardry helped us finally end more than 20 years of waiting for a dance at the Nations Cup finals.

Our immortal leader, the greatest of all time, whose love for his country would see him rush straight from a game in England to the airport, in his football kit, take a 12-hour flight to Johannesburg, then another one-and-half hour to Harare, arriving here just two hours before the start of the match and then scoring twice for his beloved nation.

Khama is in good hands, when it comes to someone who can tell him the value of playing for your country, and hopefully, when Khamaldinho comes home at the end of this month, we will see something special from a man who can make a huge difference for us.

Yes, our brave Gamecocks lost but, at least, our Khama won and that eases the pain.

To God Be The Glory!

Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Khamaldinhooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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