Andile aims for the big time
IT was quite a moment of joy and redemption when Andile Khumalo banged in a goal which earned AmaZulu a vital away point against Mamelodi Sundowns in midweek.
Told he may never play competitively again after he survived a terrible car accident two years ago, Khumalo is happy to have completely recovered.
Khumalo spent months in hospital, after the car he was travelling in, together with teammate Tsweu Mokoro, overturned in Ladysmith on their way back from Durban.
It was during his first season at Usuthu, having joined the coastal team from the University of North West side, that he was involved in a crash which nearly ended his career.
"The doctor told me I was doing well, but wasn't sure if I would continue playing professional football. I was almost shattered," says Khumalo.
"This happened just as I was finding my feet, establishing myself as a regular in the team. I spent four months in hospital, and though physically I got better, emotionally I was a wreck."
It would take Khumalo two years to fully recover and return to training.
The 21-year-old wasn't sure this would ever happen. He didn't believe he would one day score against a big club such as Sundowns.
"It took a lot of motivation and determination to win the fight back into professional football," says Khumalo.
"It was very hard. I felt I was going to disappoint a lot of people, people who knew of my potential and those who wished to see me make it big. I was still young and needed a strong support structure. And I got it from the elders, family, friends and the team. Many people who understood what I was going through kept encouraging me. I'm a firm believer and I left everything in the hands of God."
Khumalo pulled through, fought his way back into the first team, much against the odds.
A lot had changed, though, as the team had acquired several players, meaning he faced a massive fight to find his way back into the team.
But the dream for football recognition just refused to die for Khumalo, and is still very much alive that one could almost feel it when he speaks.
Khumalo has only played six games so far this season - four off the bench - and his goal against the fading Tshwane giants was his first of the season.
Sundowns scored late to salvage a point, to end the match 1-1.
"It felt great to score against a big team as Sundowns," he says, flashing a happy smile.
"The goal made me realise hard work pays off and it'll also serve as motivation as I go forward.
"People in the team are very supportive and make me work hard. They believe in me and that keeps me motivated. And I want to thank everyone who has believed in me, I can't promise much, but to keep on working hard."
The team might be struggling at the moment, as Usuthu lie 14th on nine points on the log.
But in players such as Khumalo, coach Roger Palmgren sure has fighters, players who rely on collective effort to win PSL battles.
Khumalo also has a burning ambition to represent Bafana and play overseas, preferably in Spain.
But first, he would love to win a major trophy with Usuthu, the team which stood by him.
Khumalo is not the first player to have suffered a car crash.
Dumisani Masilela's career with SuperSport United ended after he survived a car accident in 2008.
Kaizer Chiefs striker Lehlohonolo Majoro was in a car crash last year, while former AmaZulu midfielder Jan Sillo died in a car crash in 2009.
Former Black Leopards and Chiefs defender Siphiwe Mkhonza also survived a car accident last season.