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An Ace in both packs

When Orlando Pirates agreed to transfer Donald ‘Ace’ Khuse to Mamelodi Sundowns, they received five players in return, among them two strikers that would go on to be crowd favourites at the Buccaneers: Albert ‘Bashin’ Mahlangu and Basil ‘Kaapse Dans’ Steenkamp.

That was the measure of Khuse’s value to Sundowns, who back then were an ambitious club rising in the ranks of the NSL. He joined the Brazilians midway through the 1986 season, and became a member of a star-studded midfield that helped deliver the 1988 League title, the first of many for the club.

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“We had a great team ... hard-working and united,” Khuse recalls. “I enjoyed playing in midfield alongside Rabi Moripe and sometimes [Jan] ‘Malombo’ Lechaba or else [Jonas] ‘Go’ Mabusela, and we had [Harold] ‘Jazzy Queen’ [Legodi] on the wing. A great midfield.”

Matches between Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs were eagerly awaited.

“For a big game like that, we used to camp in Polokwane for a whole week,” Khuse continues. “Those camps … that’s how we got to know each other well, both on the field and off it. We became so ‘together’ and teams found it difficult to beat us ... we played good football.

“We thought we were the best, and wanted to prove it especially when we played against Kaizer Chiefs because everyone said they were the best in the country. So we were geared up.

“I remember one day we beat them 2-1 in Mamelodi, and there was a disagreement between coach Screamer [Tshabalala] and Kaizer Motaung. There were some words, but after the game, Kaizer came into the dressing-room and told us ‘well done’.”

Tshabalala must take some credit for toughening Ace up. “When not in camp, coach Screamer would take me to train alone in morning at Orlando Stadium,” he recalls.

“Strength training and endurance … the steps, lots of steps. He said I was small and needed to build my legs up. Then in the afternoon I would join the Sundowns’ squad training at Megawatt Park.”

Khuse had been at Sundowns for two-and-a-half years, playing 67 League games and scoring 12 goals by the end of that championship-winning season. Then Chiefs swooped to sign him before the 1989 season.

He found himself in another champion side as Amakhosi won their first League title in five years.

“Doctor [Khumalo], Fetsi [Molatedi], [Ntsie] Maphike in midfield; Gardener [Seale] and Lucas [Radebe] at the back; [Fani] Madida up front…” Ace reels off the names that were very quickly household names across the length and breadth of southern Africa.

“That was a good young team with very ambitious players who wanted to do something in their careers. Most of them were developed in the lower division of Chiefs so they understood the club, they knew what Chiefs wanted.”

Over the next four seasons Khuse picked up three championship medals, reaching double figures in goals in each of the title-winning campaigns.

In 1993 he moved to Turkish club Genclerbirligi, but Chiefs is ‘home’ for Ace. It was the club he supported as a boy; he shares his praise-name with the club’s greatest player, Pule ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, and he is still employed by the club today. Despite his success in the colours of Pirates and Sundowns, he was destined for the black and gold of Amakhosi.

“I trained at Chiefs and played a couple of times before I signed for Pirates [in 1983],” he reveals. “I was a bit surprised when Chiefs came back for me, but I was so happy to be playing for the team I wanted to play for. I had my best times playing for Chiefs.

Ace Khuse with Pule Ekstein

“When we played against Pirates, their fans would boo me. Yes, you feel hurt, but you tell yourself ‘let me show them I can play this game’. You have to be strong, do your best, and just deal with it,” Khuse says.

“I had my good times at Sundowns, but Chiefs were very professional. Not that Sundowns were not professional, just that Chiefs were even more so. We were a team of younger players blended with the seniors. Those were my best times.

“As coaches, Jeff Butler and Screamer were different. Stan expected us to work very hard and compete. Jeff was tactically superior to Stanley; still today, as a member of Chiefs’ coaching staff, I think a lot about what Jeff taught me.”

Ace’s favourite Chiefs-Sundowns clash of all?

“The BP Top Eight Final against Sundowns,” he says without a moment’s hesitation, recalling Amakhosi’s 1-0 win in 1992. “Of course, that is a great memory as I scored the winner!”

He remembers the goal like it was scored last weekend.

“Fani played the ball to the far post and I was there to put it in the net. It was a side-foot half-volley. I needed that awareness to make my run to the far post. Sundowns fans were not happy they shouted at me, but it’s all in the game,” he laughs.

By Richard Maguire

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