Harare - Zimbabwe international forward Khama Billiat will be carrying a huge weight of expectations when the latest chapter of Africa’s richest football league, the ABSA Premiership, explodes into life this weekend across South African cities.
The 28-year-old dumped champions Mamelodi Sundowns at the end of last season, after choosing to let his contract expire, for Kaizer Chiefs in a move that has stoked expectations at the country’s biggest and most supported football club.
Billiat was expected to move to a European club, after the expiry of his contract, but chose to remain in South Africa in the colours of The Amakhosi who are reported to have broken the bank to secure his services.
Reports indicate Billiat will be the highest paid footballer in South Africa and while the real figures remain a secret, there has been speculation in the South African media that he will earn about R500,000 a month.
Chiefs football manager Bobby Motaung, under pressure from the fans who were demanding a change in the club’s fortunes after three years of failure without a trophy, which had triggered acts of violence at a number of the club’s matches last season, was forced to look for a marquee signing to pacify some rebellious supporters.
Motaung chose Billiat as that special signing and even travelled to Harare to meet with the player’s parents and other family members to convince them that the future of the player would be best served at Chiefs.
He won their support and Motaung, who plucked another Zimbabwean footballer, Knowledge Musona, from relative obscurity and transformed him into one of Chiefs’ finest imports, dangled a fortune to get Billiat to commit to his team.
And the Zimbabwean forward, whose profile has risen significantly in the past three years, put pen to paper at a club that has a tradition of providing a home to footballers from this country.
Midfield magician Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo, who arrived at Chiefs in 1976 and turned himself into one of the greatest players to feature for the Soweto giants, blazed the trail for Zimbabwean footballers in their romantic flirtations with Chiefs.
Since then, a number of prominent Zimbabwean footballers have donned the gold-and-black Chiefs jersey, with the likes of Rabson Muchichwa, Tinashe Nengomasha, Willard Katsande and Musona leaving an enduring legacy of excellence at the Soweto giants.
But none of them carried the weight of expectations that Billiat now has on his shoulders with Chiefs fans desperate for a hero to breathe life into their club which has lost its way in recent years.
Chiefs have suffered from a combination of some poor signings, with a number of players brought into their stable struggling to adjust to the pressure and demands of playing for such a top club, while some of the coaches have also failed to rise to expectations.
And Billiat now has the responsibility to try and play a leading role in the revival of this iconic South African football club which has the biggest support base in that country.
“There is no doubt that all eyes will be on Khama in Super Diski because he is now at a new home where the demands of the fans are also very high,” said Zimbabwe national football team manager Wellington Mpandare.
“He is a high profile player who has just completed a high profile move and there are certain expectations that come with that and that also brings a considerable level of pressure.
“I believe he is very professional and has been maturing and you saw the way he performed when all the pressure was on him during our COSAFA Cup campaign and he responded when it mattered most.
“He is a very good player, a key member of our Warriors, and we will always wish him well and we believe that he has the potential to play to his best at his new home.
“It’s always important that our players who are in foreign leagues do very well at their clubs because it means that other clubs start focusing on our other players and giving them an opportunity to take their talents elsewhere.”
As fate might have it, Billiat’s first league match for Chiefs is against his old club Sundowns, with the explosive battle coming just two weeks after they met in a pre-season battle which the Amakhosi lost 1-2.
“There will be a lot of focus on Khama in that match because it’s against his old club but l think he has been in such positions before and excelled,” said Mpandare.
“It happens all over the world, players change clubs and still find a way to cut out the emotions and play as professionally as possible .
“This is their job and that is why it is a profession and there are few players like Ryan Giggs who spend all their career at one club and this is all part of the game.
“There is no need for us to put the young man under pressure but we have to encourage him to remain focused and we know what a focused Khama can do because there is no doubting his talent, he is an exceptional player.
“Let’s no look at this one game alone, but look at the entire season because that is what Chiefs bought him for and after that we can then judge if Khama is doing well or not at his new club.
“But l have no doubt that he will rise to expectations because he is someone who has always thrived under pressure.”