Khama Billiat says that he has spent much of this season searching for himself‚ the player that he was when he won the Premier Soccer League’s player of the season award in 2015-16.
This is not to say that Billiat is not in line for the award again this year.
He is Sundowns’ joint-top scorer this season with Percy Tau on nine goals.
It says something for the quality of Billiat that he can be a little off colour and still be one of the best players in the country.
And there’s even a debate about whether Billiat is even off colour.
His coach‚ Pitso Mosimane‚ says he’s asked Billiat to play a different role‚ less chasing goals into the box‚ and more playing around the box‚ turning provider.
The forward’s 13 assists are easily the most for Downs‚ to Tau’s eight.
Like any fine player‚ though – and the little Zimbabwean with a touch of genius is one of those – Billiat is not quite satisfied.
It is revealing that‚ asked where the full-flowing Billiat of 2015-16 is‚ he replied: “I also want to see him – I’ve been looking for him.”
Billiat refuses to put his quieter form down to a failure for overseas transfers to materialise after cleaning up the PSL’s player‚ player’s player and midfielder of the season awards last season.
This while he watched team-mate Keagan Dolly find a lucrative move to Montpellier in France’s Ligue 1.
“No‚ no‚ it’s not that‚” Billiat said.
“I just need to work a bit harder‚ like my coach has been saying.
“And try to create more combinations and working together‚ and understand each other better as a team.
“It (not going overseas) didn’t (affect my form).
“I don’t believe it has had something to do with my performance because it didn’t happen once.
“Even in previous seasons there were times where it looked like I would leave the team‚ and I didn’t and I still kept on going.
“So I wouldn’t look at it that way.”
Billiat had one of his best performances of 2016-17 as the architect – including two goals – of Sundowns’ 5-0 deconstruction of SuperSport United last week.
Sundowns team-mate Sibusiso Vilakazi – who dominated the 2013-14 PSL awards while at Bidvest Wits – can attest to how difficult it can be to maintain standards once you have become a marked man in the league.
Mostly‚ though‚ it is just a more refined‚ circumspect Billiat we are seeing this season‚ even if he demands more from himself.
There are other contenders for the 2016-17 player of the season – Tau and Cape Town City’s Lebogang Manyama perhaps stand out.
But Billiat’s name seems certain be among the nominations again come late May.