Bil­liant Bil­liat set to crown year with an­other ti­tle

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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.

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