KHAMA BILLIAT wore jersey number 11 for his first photograph in an official Kaizer Chiefs kit in Johannesburg on Monday and immediately sparked huge expectations among the fans of the South Africa’s biggest football club who still remember the exploits of another Zimbabwean golden boy who exploded in that shirt.
Billiat completed a surprise switch from South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns to Kaizer Chiefs last weekend to end speculation related to his future after choosing not to extend his contract with the Pretoria giants when it expired.
Reports had suggested Billiat, who was voted the best footballer in South Africa two years ago, would move from that country and take his skills to Europe but the slippery 28-year-old forward chose to commit, at least, the next three years of his football to the Amakhosi.
In January last year, after Billiat had illuminated Zimbabwe’s first match against Algeria at the 2017 AFCON finals, including producing a spectacular volley from range that crashed against the post, Ghanaian football legend Sammy Kuffour suggested that the forward should be playing in Europe.
“Billiat is the complete player. He has pace. He is small so you don’t know what to do with him,’’ Kuffour, the former Bayern Munich star, said while analysing the game on SuperSport.
"He should be in Europe already. I’d love to see him at a big club. He is a great African talent.”
Knowledge Musona, the Zimbabwe captain who also starred for Kaizer Chiefs, also challenged Billiat to take his talents for the tougher examination that comes with European football rather than being content with playing the starring role in South Africa.
This was after Billiat swept the board at the South African football end-of-season awards two years ago in what was the player’s crowning moment in a career that has been exploding in recent years.
“I wish this time he will go somewhere else to better his football, where the professionalism level is higher,’’ Musona said.
"I hope he leaves South Africa and goes to a better club in Europe, but I am very happy for him. I am very happy for Khama. In South Africa, sometimes they have a bias towards locals when it comes to selecting the award winners.
"So, I was very happy when I saw him on television collecting those big awards in South Africa.’’
But, two years down the line, Billiat remains stuck in South Africa and has even committed, at least, the next three years of his career in that country in the colours of Kaizer Chiefs.
The Amakhosi will be Billiat’s third club in that country after he started his adventure in Mzansi at Ajax Cape Town before making his big money move to Mamelodi Sundowns whom he helped become champions of Africa for the first time in their history.
When Billiat emerged on Monday in Kaizer Chiefs colours, for the first time since completing his move to the Amakhosi, the Zimbabwean forward was wearing the number 11 shirt.
And, for millions of Chiefs fans, that picture sent them walking down into memory lane to the days when another Zimbabwean forward used to play a starring role for the club wearing the same number 11 jersey.
Musona arrived at the Amakhosi as a raw 19-year-old after being picked by the South African giants from the Aces Youth Soccer Academy in Harare which, also, has provided a home for Billiat when he was honing his skills during his days as a teenager.
In fact, Aces Youth Soccer Academy director, Nigel Munyati, said his football school of excellence offered both Billiat and Musona to Kaizer Chiefs in 2009 but the Amakhosi settled for the later and handed him the number 11 shirt.
Musona had not played premiership football in Zimbabwe and his signing was greeted with a lot of pessimism by the Chiefs fans who questioned the wisdom of their club investing in a rookie whose potential had not been tested even in his home country’s top-flight league.
But, the talented forward soon made those critics eat humble pie as he sparkled in the Chiefs colours and transformed himself into the most feared player in the South African Premiership.
In just two full seasons at the Amakhosi, Musona scored 19 goals, including some spectacular strikes that still live in the memory of the fans, in the 49 appearances he made for the South African giants.
Crucially, he also had the temperament of usually producing his best performance at the biggest of occasions, in matches against Chiefs’ biggest rivals Orlando Pirates, in tough battles where he used to regularly score for the Amakhosi.
He returned from Germany for a short loan spell with Chiefs in 2013/2014 and scored eight goals in 19 appearances.
"Khama is wearing Number 11, and that means a lot for us Khosi fans, because he is coming here to fill the big shoes left by the Smiling Assassin (Musona) and that should provide us with a season to remember and we can’t wait for the battles to start,’’ said Katlego Nkosi, one of the thousands of the club’s fans who have been bombarding social media sites with messages of hope since the deal was announced.
"He can give us something special and, after the poor season we have just heard, we needed a big signing like him to make us dream again.
"He is a proven quality in our league, a talent many feel should be playing in Europe, but we just like the fact that he is now one of us, and not against us.’’
Billiat chose to thank Kaizer Chiefs for opening the doors for a new chapter in his life.
"Thank God for the grace (of the) new club @KaizerChiefs, new dreams, thanks to Amakhosi for this opportunity, looking forward to making memorable history,’’ he said on Twitter.
Club football manager, Bobby Motaung, the son of team owner Kaizer, also revealed how they ended up capturing the signature of Billiat.
“As you know he is a big player and we all know that it was understood that he is going overseas and all the big clubs were interested in him,’’ he told reporters in South Africa.
"He was available during this window, but we do things uniquely here at Chiefs in terms of how we negotiate our deals and how we approach the player.
“It was a number of factors that actually clinched the deal. The way we engaged the player and his family, it was welcoming for him to come to Chiefs.”