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The year Khama fought demons on and off the pitch

By Eddie Chikamhi

From a spate of injuries to falling into the dangerous hands of armed robbers.

Khama Billiat
Khama Billiat

Then the baffling loss of form, the heavy-handed criticism and having to deal with the trauma of the team’s implosion that cost them the title this year.

These are some of the demons that Warriors poster boy, Khama Billiat, had to confront this year.

The year 2020 will certainly be one to forget after he played 21 games for South African Premiership football giants Kaizer Chiefs and managed to score only three goals and two assists. This would probably rank among his worst statistics since he arrived in South Africa in 2010.

But then this was not a normal season for the Zimbabwean forward, who played in fits and starts because of recurring injuries.

Billiat began the year on the sidelines after he aggravated a hamstring injury during the last match of 2019 against Maritzburg United.

It was on December 22 when he got the nasty knock and doctors recommended that he be rehabilitated on the sidelines for three weeks.

The Zimbabwe international eventually returned to competitive football on February 8 when he came on as a half-time substitute for Leonardo Castro to inspire his side to a 1-0 win over Royal Eagles in the Nedbank Cup round of 32.

The following month the season was suspended because of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But by then Chiefs were on course to win both the league and the Nedbank Cup after laying strong foundations.

At some point they led the race by 10 points but when the league was stopped because of the outbreak of coronavirus, the gap was reduced to four points and Sundowns had a game in hand.

The pandemic was unexpected and there were also suggestions that the league be nullified with Chiefs handed the title on account of the force majeure but the football authorities decided to complete the league with a secure bio-bubble.

Upon the return of football after the five months after the coronavirus-induced break, Chiefs somehow struggled to stamp their authority despite their strong position.

They lost much ground in the race to nearest rivals Mamelodi Sundowns, who went on to wrestle the title on the last day of the campaign.

During the bubble competition, pressure had been mounting in the Chiefs camp because of the poor results and, unfortunately, most of the criticism was heaped on Zimbabwe international footballer Billiat.

Maybe the fans had expected much from Billiat to justify his huge salary bill. The Zimbabwean stands as the highest earner in the Supa Disk, drawing R833 333 in monthly salaries from Chiefs.

Khama, whose market value shot to €2 million (R38 million) at its peak in 2016, has shed 25 percent since the beginning of the year.

However, with a market value of €1.50m (R29 million), he is still ranked number one among all players at Kaizer Chiefs and the whole of the DStv Premiership.

The midfield sensation, who dominated the boards at the 2016 Premier Soccer League awards while still at Mamelodi Sundowns, has been a pale shadow of his previous best.

Billiat was subjected to a wave of brutal criticism by some sections of the South African media and the relentless onslaught at times appeared to be sort of an agenda against the midfielder.

The loss of form, as explained by Billiat’s former agent Mike Ngobeni, was not surprising since he has not played the game continuously in the last 12 months because of injuries and later the coronavirus lockdown.

The attacking midfielder, who last scored a league goal in September last year, scored his second of the season in exactly one year when Chiefs beat Chippa United 1-0 to keep Amakhosi on course.

He scored again in the last match in the 1-1 draw against Baroka but the goal was not enough to secure the title since they needed an outright win to edge out Sundowns.

Billiat and his Chiefs teammates finished the season empty-handed after bowing out of the MTN8 in a disappointing 0-5 drubbing by Orlando Pirates in the semi-finals.

Former coach Ernst Middendorp at some point had suggested his star player needed help to regain his form in the final third of the season when they were looking to wrap up the campaign. But the goals just were not coming.

“We know it hasn’t been a great season for Khama, but everybody knows that he has huge potential and we can only support him and put him in the next movement, and expect that he can do better,” Middendorp told the media.

But some of his critics have even gone to the extent of questioning whether the Warriors talisman is indeed 30-years-old, with South African football legend, Mlungisi “Professor’’ Ngubane, accusing him of alleged age-cheating.

It was a bit below the belt, coming from a respected person like Ngubane. This forced Biliiat’s parents, Mustapha and Rosa, to spring to the defence of their son. Billiat has always remained one of the key players for Zimbabwe despite his woes at club level.

He told The Southern Times Sport during Zimbabwe’s preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations back-to-back qualifiers against Algeria that he was battling the demons and was confident he would prevail.

“It’s a struggle, a real one,” he said.

“I have worked hard in training and my teammates have been motivating me a lot. The coach as well has been encouraging me a lot.

“It’s only that I haven’t found my scoring boots yet but I believe soon I will come out good. The demons have been immense. I have in a way lost some confidence due to my failure to deliver but trust me, I am back at the top level once again.”

At the beginning of the year, the Warriors star forward was robbed at gun-point in South Africa for the second time in three years, and lost some valuables at a mall in Johannesburg. According to reports, Billiat lost cash, phones and jewellery to the armed thugs. The Herald