Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
SIX years after his endorsement by Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand opened the doors for a move to South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns, Khama Billiat is at the centre of a social media explosion with scores of football fans furious over the way he was treated as an outcast by some of his teammates on Wednesday night.
The Zimbabwe international forward, who turns 28 next month, is in the final phase of his romance with the South African champions and is set to leave the Brazilians at the expiry of his contract at the end of June amid reports he could be on his way to Europe.
Billiat was thrown into the starting XI by Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane in the Mandela Centenary Challenge Cup showdown against Barcelona at the FNB Stadium which the Spanish giants, who showed the gulf in class between the two sides in the first half before retreating into second gear in the second period, ran away 3-1 winners.
Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe is reported to have paid a cool 3 million euros to bring Barcelona to South Africa for their one-day adventure although the wealthy businessman also ran other huge costs in chartering the plane which brought the Catalan giants to South Africa.
But while Barcelona’s decision to come for the hugely symbolic match was largely hailed, with thousands of fans packed in the FNB Stadium getting a chance to watch Lionel Messi in action, questions are now being asked over the way Billiat appeared to be frozen out of the team’s attack by some of his teammates in that match.
Some fans even claim this was meant to ensure Billiat did not explode, as he usually does, to draw a larger global audience, which was following the match live on television, to his talents now that he is weighing his options as his Sundowns contract runs out.
Billiat will leave as a free agent, which means he can negotiate his terms, after repeated attempts by the South African champions to extend his contract at the club failed.
Interestingly, the match on Wednesday came exactly six years after Billiat ran rings around the Manchester United defence, while playing for Ajax Cape Town, in a pre-season friendly, which opened the doors for him to move to a bigger club like Sundowns.
That Ajax side held United to a 1-1 draw at the Cape Town Stadium and Ferdinand was left showering a lot of praise on the Zimbabwean forward.
“If they are really youngsters, they have quite a few of really good players. Their two centre halves (Nazeer Allie and Matthew Booth), but their number 11 (Khama Billiat) is their most exciting player for me,” Ferdinand told a South African football website Football411.com after the match.
“He is good when in position, good ball control and a can use his speed really well. Overall, an exciting player.”
Billiat went on to star at Sundowns, whom he helped win successive league championships in South Africa, and become the first club from that country to be crowned champions of Africa in more than 20 years while they also featured at the FIFA Club World Cup.
However, on Wednesday night, Billiat could not impose himself on the game as he struggled for service from his teammates and now a social media backlash has erupted with some claiming the forward was deliberately being frozen out of the game by some of his teammates.
His teammates Percy Tau and Sibusiso Vilakazi, who scored the Sundowns goal in the second half after finding space inside the box and having the composure to stroke the ball home, were targeted in that social media fury.
A lot of the furious feedback was posted on Billiat’s Facebook page after the forward posted a picture from the big match in which he out-sprinted Barcelona defender Gerard Pique and attached a caption that read, ‘’In God We Trust.’’
Here are some of the responses:
‘’You were getting on good scoring position but what I’m not getting is why Percy and Villa were not passing the ball to you , you (are a) far much accomplished player compared to them, tactically, and furthermore you perform much better playing outside left compared to main man in front.’’
‘’Khama, always you (are) the best. We love you .Thank you for the decision not (to) stay. They don’t like you there . . . I saw they don’t pass you balls. Percy and Vilakazi are losers. It’s their climax while as I know you are hotter than them at the same time you can shine anywhere you go.’’
‘’You did your best . . . But Vila & Tau what they did wasn’t right at all, it was like you weren’t there at the ground . . . They were not passing ball to you.’’
‘’Boy, they don’t like YOU, they are not passing you (the ball), football it’s teamwork and you can’t perform alone.’’
‘’You played well shaaa, those guys vachingomhanya all over not passing you the balls. They fear you . . . your future is brighter man . . . big up. You played beautifully . . . dai manga muri team yemhanga mhanga makarohwa 7-0 but well done.’’
LUNGISANIE LOOMUDE WAKA LUSHABA
‘’When you watch the repeat (of the game) you will see that your players didn’t wanna pass you the ball, with your quick feet and spaces you were in.’’
‘’Keep it on Billiat, isu tinokutsigira nyangwe vachikunyima bhora, chikwama Tau uyo naMatemba Zwane havafe vakasvika palevel yauri hama.’’
‘’You showed class man, wakapenga, they didn’t want to pass you (the ball) but you where passing (the ball to) them apa havagoni bhora racho.’’
DE ONLAE NCUBE
‘’Hands up to you boss . . . even if they didn’t want to give you the balls.’’
“Think it’s high you realised that Tau and Vilakazi don’t like you.”
“Nice game Khama, but they were not giving the ball and time to shine.”
“Well done Khama. I hope you clinch a deal with a European team to fulfil your dream.”
OWEN AMBRICKO JINNO
“Why were they not giving you balls #selfish teammates, especially Tau, (he) broke my heart.”
PATHU TSEDZO MULAUDZI
“Well done boy, you just have to work hard you have to see yourself playing with them (Barcelona).”
Mosimane even had time to joke after his team’s spirited second half show.
“I think the difference is between the Rand and the Euro hey . . . (just) to sum it up,” he joked with South African journalists.
“Obviously, you could see the difference, you could see the quality in Barca.
“You could see how they passed the ball, but we also had our chance to play, and that’s how I wanted the boys to play, the way Sundowns play and test it against Barcelona.
“There’s a big difference and we must not fool ourselves — it was a friendly game.
“Maybe it would have been different if it was a competitive game.
“I don’t think we embarrassed our people. We played football.”