South Africa’s hottest prospect Bongani Khumalo has signed a pre-contract agreement to join Tottenham for £1.5million (R18 million) in the January transfer window.
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp admits: "Bongani is not expensive. We had him over on trial and we like him. He's got potential and we've got a tie-up with his club SuperSports United so we've taken him on.
The move, predicted here two months ago, opens up the prospect of Khumalo being joined by fellow Bafana Bafana international Steve Pienaar at Spurs. Redknapp has expressed an interest in the Everton midfielder, who is out of contract in the summer.
Redknapp said: "It will be a great chance for Bongani. He's a great lad. He comes from a poor background and he's desperate for a chance and we're going to give him a chance."
We’ll discuss the “poor background” bit later, but Tottenham's official statement yesterday read: "We are delighted to announce that we have reached a pre-contract agreement with SuperSport United for the transfer of Bongani Khumalo to the club in January 2011 subject to a work permit being granted.
"The club has enjoyed a successful association with Supersport United having formed a long-term partnership with the South African champions back in 2007."
With Ledley King’s knees ever-troublesome, Michael Dawson still recovering from injury and Jonathan Woodgate unavailable for months, towering defender Khumalo – whose Christian name means “happiness” - could yet be the key to Tottenham staying in the Premier League’s top four this season.
Redknapp’s creaking centre-back pairing of William Gallas and Sebastien Bassong were anything but watertight as they leaked four early goals against Inter Milan last Tuesday.
The 23-year-old, 6ft 2in Khumalo, who scored in South Africa’s World Cup win over France in June, barely put a foot wrong during the tournament and enjoyed a successful two-week trial at White Hart Lane in August.
Khumalo, born in Swaziland but a regular in the South Africa side with 19 caps, should have no trouble gaining a work permit before the big move which should happen pretty darn quick after the New Year dawns. Spurs fans will be hoping they are still in contention for the title at that point – and have survived the Champions League cut after that epic 4-3 defeat against holders Inter in Group A.
Redknapp would have signed Khumalo during the summer but he gambled on the old war-horse Gallas (a 33-year-old on a free transfer from arch-rivals Arsenal) and lost Dawson when he sprained his ankle playing in England’s 4-0 win over Bulgaria early in the season.
At the time, SuperSports United chairman Khulu Sibiya made it known he would have let Khumalo go “for just a little more money”.
Today the club released a statement saying: “Supersport United are pleased to announce that a pre-contract agreement with Tottenham Hotspur for the transfer of Bongani Khumalo with effect from January 2011 has been concluded, subject to a work permit being granted.
“In paying tribute to the player, Supersport United Chairman, Khulu Sibiya, expressed his delight with the opportunity granted to Khumalo who joined the club at the beginning of the 2007/2008 PSL season.
“Bongani has been an exceptional player for Supersport United. His three and a half years at the club has seen him develop into one of the best footballers in the country and his contribution was a major factor in the club winning three consecutive ABSA Premiership League titles. Everyone at the club wishes him well in his future career at Tottenham Hotspur.
“ We are equally proud of the fact that Bongani is joining our partners, Tottenham Hotspur, with whom we have enjoyed a fantastic and fruitful relationship since 2007 and we are convinced that this relationship will continue to grow from strength to strength in the years to come.”
But there is always the lingering memory of one Mbulelo OJ Mabizela and his time in North London.
Mabizela scored a cracker on his debut for Spurs in 2003 but never settled. Khumalo should have no such problems and is widely expected to rival everything achieved by Lucas Radebe in a glorious decade with Leeds United which came to a close in 2005.
Despite Redknapp’s insistence that he is form “a poor background”, Khumalo’s mum is an English teacher and his late father was a lecturer in African languages at UNISA. He is articulate and well-balanced and will have all the support he needs in London. He says: “As a professional you need to carry yourself very well. It’s vital you train well and set a good example on and off the field. I live in that lifestyle.
“You have to stay motivated, stay strong mentally. I have always wanted to play in England and obviously in the Premier League, and it is my dream to move to Tottenham. It is up to me to make sure it works.
"Playing in the Champions League would be another dream. I think the Champions League is the closest level to the World Cup in terms of quality and the play, so it would be great to make the move."
Yes, that’s the way the lad talks. With conviction. Khumalo explains: “My mum was an English teacher at a high school, so English was always the main focus. I speak English the way I was taught.”
The great chief himself, Radebe, adds this: "Bongani is destined for great heights in his football career,” while Gavin Hunt, the coach who has seen Supersport United win three consecutive South Africa Premier League titles despite their tiny fan base, says: "People should realise that Bongani is a player who has the quality to play in one of the top leagues in Europe.
"He has matured so well in the last few years and I am so pleased that he has been given the chance to experience this World Cup in South Africa."
KHUMALO: the story so far:
1987: Born in Manzini, Swaziland, when his parents were working there.
1989: Moved to the township of Mamelodi near Pretoria aged two.
2001: Played junior football for Arcadia Shepherds, the once-famous Pretoria club responsible for grooming such luminaries as Aston Villa’s European Cup winner Peter Withe and former Blackburn, QPR and Coventry star Roy Wegerle.
2005: Moved to the University of Pretoria, who operate a second division side in South Africa.
2007: Signed for SuperSports United.
2010: He drives a Seat Leon Cupra (“the beast”) and told me during the World Cup: “We all want to play for big teams overseas and if the opportunity comes I’ll jump at it.”
VERDICT: Bongani, there’s no way you’ll “do an OJ” when you come over in January. But if you need a sympathetic bloke to show you London, I’m here pal. Despite the fact I grew up playing for Arcadia Shepherds’ arch-rivals Berea Park, you’re welcome to share my house with my four crazy kids any time. All I ask in return is that you turn out, just once, for my team Goldhill Baptists on the common in Chalfont St Giles, recently voted Buckinghamshire’s Best Kept Village. It’s 23 miles from London. We’re the current national over-35 FA Cup holders and are currently unbeaten atop the South Bucks Church League Division One. I’m the other centre-back. You won’t regret it.