Billiant Billiat set to crown year with another title
CALL HIM Khama Billiat 2.0 because the scrawny midfielder who left Ajax Cape Town for Mamelodi Sundowns four years ago is no longer around. In his place is a more advanced version of that player, deadlier in front of goal while his shoulders have grown broad enough to carry the Brazilians and Zimbabwe in their successful continental quests.
Billiat played a starring role in Sundowns winning the CAF Champions League and helped take the Brave Warriors to their first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance in over a decade. His efforts for both country and club should see the 26-year-old crowned African Player of the Year – Based in Africa on Thursday in CAF’s awards ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria.
That prestigious award would join the three awards he won in May last year, including the South Africa’s Footballer of the Year gong. This success makes a mockery of the obituaries that were written about his career when he joined the Brazilians, where many promising careers have died from the lure of more money which came with limited game time because the competition for places is stiff. Billiat, bucked that trend and served as an inspiration for other players to join Sundowns without fear. “When people were saying I shouldn’t go to Sundowns because my career will die there, I sat down and looked at the situation. I told myself, here are Keagan Dolly and Khama Billiat. They came from Ajax, a small club like Bloemfontein Celtic, and they made it at Sundowns to be regulars and important components of the team. I asked myself: ‘why don’t I take the risk?’ Let me take the risk and see what will happen. Look at what has happened now. I am playing regularly and I am going to the Fifa Club World Cup,” Thapelo Morena – who forced his way to join Sundowns rather than Kaizer Chiefs, said last month.
Billiat and Dolly not only inspired Morena to join the Brazilians, but the pair made up the deadly attacking trio – the CBD. Billiat brought brilliance to the equation while Leonardo Castro was the clinical centre forward and Dolly pitched in with his dynamic burst of pace. The trio killed many defenders as Downs marched to win the league in record style, with 71 points – the most in the 16-team PSL-era.
Billiat is the glue that holds that trio together. His flexibility works well when they switch positions. The Zimbabwean is able to play on either flank and as the centre forward.
In 2013, the idea of Billiat playing as an attacking point of reference would have been unheard of. He wasn’t that strong, smart enough or even had the engine to do so. There was also the small matter of his wasteful nature in front of goal. If Billiat was more clinical, the Lesly Manyathela Golden Boot would have been on first name basis with him.
At Sundowns they worked on him to be stronger, smarter and more than just a goal scorer, but a creator first. It took some getting used to for the Zimbabwean as he moved away from the spotlight to playing the supporting role. But with that change in responsibility, the spotlight followed Billiat because of the impact he was making there.
“I told Khama to come to Sundowns and that I will make him Footballer of the Year,” Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane regularly boasts. He achieved that. Billiat is overshooting, close to being named the best player on the continent after which a move overseas should follow.