Sundowns gambled on Billiat exit

Khama Billiat

Khama Billiat

Robson Sharuko:Senior Sports Editor

KHAMA BILLIAT’S latest failure to move to Europe appears to have surprised even his club, Mamelodi Sundowns, who had resigned themselves to losing their talisman and even prepared for life without the Zimbabwe international forward.The 26-year-old Warriors’ star seemed set to finally make his dream move to Europe after making an impression at the 2017 Nations Cup finals to justify why he was named as the best on-field footballer, plying his trade on the continent last year, by the Confederation of African Football.

The expectations were so high that Sundowns, who are the reigning African champions, had even recruited a replacement for Billiat last month, having resigned themselves to losing him and his two fellow forwards — Keegan Dolly and Leanardo Castro — during the January transfer window which closed on Tuesday.

“It’s not just Keagan, there may be two other players that may have to go (Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro). And we are looking at bringing in two others,” club owner Patrice Motsepe said last month before his club subsequently released a statement making it clear they had made provisions for the replacement of the trio.

“Mamelodi Sundowns specifically brought Sibusiso Vilakazi, Yannick Zakri and Thapelo Morena to the club to replace Keagan Dolly and a few other players that we expect to release to other European clubs,” the statement said.

“We expect as part of our 10-year plan to release some of our players to top European clubs but also to develop quality players at our Academy and to continue bringing the best South African, African and South American players to the club.”

But while Dolly left, after signing a long-term deal with French Ligue 1 club Montpellier, Billiat remains stuck at Sundowns with the forward set to stay at the Brazilians, at least, for the next five months before another opportunity avails itself with a new window being opened in July.

However, there are fears Billiat — who turns 27 in August this year — might be getting to the wrong age, in terms of attracting interests from European clubs and, crucially, there is no guarantee he will maintain the high level of performance, which he has displayed in the past year, given that by August, he would have played non-stop football for two years.

The challenges of playing for his club in two Champions League campaigns, one CAF Confederation Cup campaign, two ABSA Premiership campaigns, the FIFA Club World Cup and a number of domestic knockout tournaments, representing his country in two Nations Cup qualifying campaigns and featuring for the Warriors at the 2017 AFCON finals, could take a toll on the diminutive forward.

There are fears then that, should this happen, Billiat would not be playing at the same level he is playing today and the interest, which he has generated around the world would cool off with the forward set to end his career in South Africa.

While the Zimbabwean international, somehow, continues to fail to get his breakthrough, three Congolese internationals — Jonathan Bolingi, Marveille Bokadi and Christian Luyindama — on Tuesday sealed their move to Belgian side Standard Liege after having caught the eye while helping TP Mazembe win the CAF Champions League title in 2015.

TP Mazembe, though, failed to defend their African club title last year, with Billiat playing an inspirational role to help Mamelodi Sundowns secure their first title, with the Lubumbashi giants having to settle for the CAF Confederation Cup title.

Yesterday, there was intense debate on the Football Africa Arena, an interactive forum that groups leading football writers and administrators on the continent, over why Billiat was failing to make a move to Europe with some suggesting he was being let down by his management team who have not done enough to help his cause.

They argued that for Dolly to finally secure his move to French side Montpellier, his agents had to work with some European agents to strike that deal.

Others have also argued that Sundowns have placed a prohibitive price tag on the Zimbabwe international forward which has repelled the interests of some possible suitors.

Billiat hasn’t hidden his desire to move to Europe and his Warriors teammate, Knowledge Musona, and coach Callisto Pasuwa have been urging him to make the big leap.

“It is good the way he has been playing in South Africa. He is in great form. He is a boy who has got everything in terms of taking on the man, taking power play. He is short but it’s amazing the way he plays,” Pasuwa told The Herald.

“We hope if he keeps on like this, he will go far in terms of his play.

“I am one person who also thinks it is now time for him to move to European clubs and he has done a lot for the South African league. He has proven he can do anything in a game.

“Khama is one player who doesn’t have one dimension of play. He can easily change, he can dribble, he can play basic football which is one area he has got an advantage if things are tough for him. He can also go into dangerous positions and passes the ball very well.”

Swiss coach Marc Duvillard, who oversaw Billiat’s development during his time Aces Youth Soccer Academy, said the time was ripe for Billiat to move to Europe.

“Now is the time for him to move to a bigger challenge, he should now go to Europe because he has got the qualities to play in German or Spain. There is good space for a skilful player to shine in the Spanish La Liga and in Germany they play superb counter-attacking football, which suits Khama’s frame,” said Duvillard.

“Physically he is small and in football you have to do something extra ordinary for you to survive. Billiat realised that when he was still a young boy and we had to emphasise more on his ball control, speed and dribbling skills when he came to this Academy.

“Obviously he will struggle in a physical league like the English Premier League but (for) La Liga and Bundesliga, he certainly has the qualities for those.”

Former Sundowns forward Simba Marumo also believes Billiat could be a success in Europe.

“He can definitely make it overseas, without a shadow of a doubt,” Marumo told MTN football. “In fact, I think he should be going to bigger clubs than Belgium. He should be going to Spain or Germany or something. He will definitely be a star in Belgium.”

“He’s got really good technique; he scores and he doesn’t need too many chances.”

Ghanaian football legend Samuel Kuffour and former Zimbabwe international, Tinashe Nengomasha, who have been working as pundits for SuperSport’s coverage of the 2017 Nations Cup finals, also believe Billiat should move to Europe.

Article Source: The Herald