|TIME TO LEAVE THE COMFORT ZONE: Khama Billiat|
SUNDAY afternoon in Gabon was not just about Zimbabwe holding highly-rated Algeria to a pulsating 2-2 draw, it was also about Khama Billiat finally getting the recognition he deserves.
The 26-year-old from Harare stands just 1.7m tall, at 5ft 7in, barely two inches taller than Lionel Messi, who needed growth hormone therapy. But Billiat has long been a talent as impressive in Southern Africa as Leo was in Argentina at half his age.
A product of the local Aces Academy in Harare, Billiat left CAPS United before he even played a professional game, spotted by the Ajax scouting network in Cape Town. He played 83 games for the club, scoring 21 goals alongside another huge talent, Thulani Serero.
But while Serero went off to Amsterdam, Billiat tried out with Lokomotiv in Moscow before accepting a new post closer to home: he went to Mamelodi Sundowns in 2013 for a reported fee of R10m, still a PSL record.
And when Pitso Mosimane arrived to steady the Masandawana ship, Billiat began to thrive. He scored 8 goals in 2014-15 and 12 last season as Sundowns broke the Stuart Baxter/Kaizer Chiefs stranglehold on the championship twice in the last three seasons.
While a huge fuss is being made of team-mate Keagan Dolly - Sundowns were allowed to push his contracted buy-out from around R10m to over R20m by the PSL’s Dispute Resolution Chamber - there can be little question Billiat is the bigger deal.
After a fantastic start to AFCON 2017 against Algeria - he ran out of steam a little in the second half in Franceville - Billiat was the talk of the tournament.
Two fantastic runs saw him denied only by the goalkeeper, but it was a peach of a volley midway through the first half - which damn nearly broke the crossbar - that provided the perfect Billiat moment.
Sammy Kuffour, the sometimes comic SuperSport analyst, was shaken in to coherence. He said: “Billiat is the complete player. He has pace. He is small so you don’t know what to do with him. He should be in Europe already. I’d love to see him at a big club. He is a great African talent.”
Of course, Sundowns could probably get the DRC to block any potential admirers as the European clubs queue up after AFCON, where the scouts flock like flies.
But in truth, like Dolly, Billiat should have been gone ages ago. There is talk of disciplinary problems - he was late to arrive at the Zimbabwe pre-Afcon camp - and he certainly has a comfortable life in Tshwane.
But after winning the PSL twice and the African Champions League this season, any further dalliance would be pointless.
Sundowns did all they could do delay Bongani Zungu’s move to Portugal. They’re doing the same to Dolly. Compatriot Knowledge Musona has already advised Billiat to escape his Gauging comfort zone.
The player himself says: "I would love to go and play in Europe but I will see. If I don't go to Europe I am still happy at Sundowns.”
That’s not enough. Football is a short career. Sundowns fans won’t like it, but Khama, it’s time to make the leap of faith. Faith in your own ability.