The journey: Khanya Leshabela goes from strength to strength

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Born in September 1999 in Pretoria midfielder Khanya Thakgalo Leshabela has gone from strength to strength in a journey that has landed him in King Power stadium in the city of Leicester, England.

Leshabela’s family originated from Limpopo and moved to Pretoria to settle in the famous township of Soshanguve, which is where the midfielder was born. Aged just two Leshabela would leave with his parents to the United Kingdom to search for better life opportunities in the city of Northampton and this is where the youngster started sharpening his skills with the local club .

FARPost had the privilege of catching up with Leshabela’s father Desmond Leshabela who shared the story of his son’s journey in England.

“When he was about 9 years old his friend joined a local children football club called Parklands Tigers and he was initially not allowed to join because the membership was full. However he was accepted to train with the club to keep himself busy. One day one of the players got injured and the club was losing the game and Khanya came on as a substitute. The team equalised and went on to win the match and that is the moment that changed his life I can say,” Mr Leshabela senior explained.

“So from that time onwards he became one of the key players in the club for sometime.

“When he was 10 his club formed an alliance with another club then changed the name to Gregory Celtics which became a dominant club for kids in Northampton. I then helped him to Junior Foxes in Northampton which played at a much higher standard than Celtics as they were playing against academies rather than clubs,” he concluded

In 2013 Leshabela now aged 13 would do well when Gregory Celtics played against Leicester city’s U14 side in a tournament which is where he impressed Leicester’s scouts and got invited for a trial at the soon to be English champions.

The 20-year-old then got accepted into Leicester’s academy and has grown from strength to strength over the years. The season that truly made him a player worth noticing was the 2017/18 season where at the age of 18 his performances for the U23s were amazing such that the following season he was the main man for the team even making the senior team bench for the first time in a Carabao Cup tie, but unfortunately he could not make his debut but had announced his arrival into the senior squad set up.

After that journey it wasn’t a surprise in January 2019 to see Leicester tie the attacking midfielder down to a long-term contract, with Leshabela putting pen to paper for the next three and a half years, a contract which runs until June 2022.

It was during that same period when Leshabela was being spoken about in all corners of South Africa with most not knowing about his journey so far. Being rewarded with that important first professional contract earned him his first ever national team call up to the South African U20 squad by coach Thabo Senong for the 2019 African U20 AFCON held in Niger.

In Niger, Leshabela would make his first ever appearance for his home country which was a beginning of what is promises to be a long road for him in the international scene.

Fast forward to May 2019 the man from ‘Sosha’ would play in his first ever World Cup starting a game against Portugal in a 1-1 draw as South Africa would bow out of the tournament in the group stages with one point having lost two games and drawn one.

In his club career Leshabela also made some good strides as he was invited for the 2019/20 pre-season by coach Brendan Rodgers who is a coach known for his belief in young players, apparently Rodgers is a big admirer of the midfielder and in the 2019/20 season refused for him to be loaned out to play first team football elsewhere as he has plans for him at King Power.

Leshabela left a very good impression in pre-season especially in a game against Scunthorpe where he was the only player who played both halves but had to be substituted due to a knock he sustained after the hour mark.

This season the SA U23 international has had a good season having played 21 games in all competitions scoring once and being a regular in the team. He also received his first call up from coach David Notoane to the SA U23 team in a Olympic qualifier against Zimbabwe where he started the second leg away against Zimbabwe in a 0-0 draw. SA won that tie 5-0 on aggregate and would progress to the 2019 U23 AFCON in Egypt where they qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

Leshabela is one of a number of SA young players to have emerged in the past five years who look to be a generation that will take SA international football back to its glory days.

The midfielder is expected to start playing first team football in the 2020/21 season but it remains to be seen whether he would be out on loan to gain more experience or Rodgers would continue to show the confidence in him and throw him in the first team squad for the 2020/21 English Premier League side.

By Prince Sobayeni

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