When Sibusiso Khumalo’s widowed mom, Thokozile, who works as a domestic worker, starts speaking about Farouk Khan, you just know she has an undying, heartfelt gratitude! You get the sense it’s an eternal gratitude.
The thought of his gentle courtesy and genuine kindness towards her son brings a warm glow of joy and gratitude to her heart, she sincerely tells FARPost.
Of course, she has never met the man, who is popular in football circles, yet she has felt the impact of his nurture through her son.
When the Black Leopards left-back’s dad passed on in 2001, all hope seemed lost. Left with two boys to raise all by herself, her meagre housemaid salary was barely enough to sustain them.
Even if she could, Khumalo’s passion was football and he’d need someone to prudently help hone his raw football skills.
And he did just that. By the way, it sometimes meant 15-year-old ‘S’bu’ waking up at 5am to go and train.
“I remember one day we had a meeting with the likes of May Mahlangu and complained about having to train at 5am. We also told him that his (Khan) shouting must stop,” Khumalo, who had a stint with Kaizer Chiefs, once said.
“But today, when I look back, I realise his shouting helped us a lot, to the extent that I can now buy my family nice things. It was his efforts that developed me into a good player. To me, he is not only a coach but a father because of all the good things he has brought about in my life.”
Rightly so, Khumalo’s soft-spoken oledi, who resides in Inanda, Durban, is grateful to the Vrededorp-born coach for ‘adopting’ her son at the age of 15.
“There was no father to take care of him and his older brother after their father died when S’bu was 12, but Mr Farouk Khan took him in as his own son. He helped us live a decent life like all other families,” she says with an echo of indebtedness in her voice.
What she does not know, however, is that exactly two years after her husband’s passing, Coach Khan, as she refers to him, made a decision that would later benefit her son and hundreds of other soccer-loving boys.
Philosophers would often quip, ‘you never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone’. But listening to the story of Coach Khan, you then realise that ‘you can never change lives until you step out of your comfort zone’.
Nonetheless, the common denominator is that change begins right at the end of your comfort zone.
For Khan – a pioneer at unearthing world class football stars – the journey took a beautiful turn the day he decided – against all odds – to step outside the comfort of a hefty Mamelodi Sundowns salary.
“I was earning big money at Sundowns (as assistant coach), just from bonuses alone we were making R50 000,” he tells FARPost as he chronicles his incredible journey that has seen him unearth some of South Africa’s top talents.
Imagine yourself in his shoes – you’d probably have taken the easy way out without pondering much.
But armed with a vision to transform the lives of young wannabe diski princes, Khan took a huge leap into unfamiliar territory and co-founded Stars of Africa Academy – based in Johannesburg – after relentless persuasion by businessman Nadiem Mahmood in 2003.
“When you believe in something you go with your gut,” he says boldly.
It made all sense that Mahmood frantically wanted to work with him. The man, who came through the legendary hands of Ted Dumitru in as far as coaching is concerned, had been actively involved in the once famous Safa Transnet School of Excellence whose brightest graduates include Steven Pienaar, Mbulelo ‘OJ’ Mabizela and Dillon Sheppard, who all had stints overseas.
He had also amassed a wealth of experience when he headed the Kaizer Chiefs youth academy. At Amakhosi, where some of his products include Jabu Pule, he had gone as far as being assistant coach.
Besides, he had also proven himself worthy of esteem when he won the Absa Cup with Santos as senior team head coach.
But the switch to Stars of Africa meant what used to be accrued in monthly bonuses at the cash-rich Sundowns became a monthly budget meant to put food on the table for several young boys, take them to school, transport them, provide food and give stipends to staff.
“We had R50 000 per month as a budget, but I believed that one day the academy would produce world class players,” he adds.
Any staffer who was with what protégé Tefu Mashamaite once called “the university of football” would tell you they lived from hand to mouth. The stipends weren’t big at all, yet they went beyond the call of duty to collectively mould the next generation of top footballers. Not just top footballers, but decent human beings as well.
“With that little budget you’ll be shocked how we made it, the boys used to eat well, thanks to God.”
A quick research shows an academy needs, on average, R600 000 a month to run smoothly. “The cost of running an academy is based on the quality of the resources offered. R600 000 is certainly a decent amount,” explains a local club’s academy head.
“We then had between R110 000 to R120 000 which is what we have today, but we, as an academy, have more players abroad than all those clubs put together,” says Khan.
Some of the academy’s products currently in Europe include Bafana Bafana duo of Thibang ‘Cafu’ Phete and Luther Singh, who both ply their trade in Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
Singh, who turns out for Braga, was only 11 when he left his father’s house to join the Stars of Africa to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
His father, Moses Singh, is on record as saying he approved of that decision because of Khan’s impressive record. He counts the likes of May Mahlangu, Tokelo Rantie and Mashamaite among some of his prodigies who’ve gone on to make a mark in the game.
“May Mahlangu was an orphan when he came to us, he is a multimillionaire today. He has built a house for his family and it’s a house anybody would love to live in. He didn’t go to Sandton, he built it among the people he grew up with. He’s a real ambassador of Secunda,” he explains.
Khan can never forget Rantie, who had a stint with English side Bournemouth at the height of his career.
“Tokelo did so much good for his mom. She had a liver condition that needed a procedure and he paid for that. He also did so much for his community,” he says, adding that his desire is to mould his students into amazing human beings.
And then there was the time young Mashamaite was offloaded by Bidvest Wits after a loan stint at Stars. Khan took him back with open arms and polished him meticulously like a diamond getting ready for the international market.
“Within two years, Wits signed him from us for R8 000,” he recalls. ‘The Students’ later sold him to Chiefs for R2 million where he became the bedrock of the defence that helped them win the 2014/15 league title. The BA in International Relations and Politics graduate from Wits then became a big winner at the PSL Awards on 17 May 2015, a rarity for a defender.
He was crowned Footballer of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Absa Premiership Defender of the Season, pocketing R450 000 for his individual contribution towards winning the league and the MTN8.
“I had to teach him how to head the ball and when he went to Chiefs he scored most of his goals with his head,” the 60-year-old mentor says.
Twice in his PSL career, Mashamaite grabbed a brace courtesy of well-taken headers. On 16 September 2009, in a space of two minutes, between the 72nd and 74th minute, he scored for Wits in a game against Sundowns. In a Telkom Knockout tie between Chiefs and Polokwane City on 5 October 2013, Mashamaite scored via headers from two corner kicks.
When he harks back at the players he has produced and how football has changed their lives, all other accolades mean nothing. For a man who has won the Engen Under 17 tournament with Stars in 2005, qualified for the ABSA Cup Last 32 with Alexandra United (Stars of Africa) in 2006, and won the Umbro Western Cape Under 17 tournament you’d expect him to take pride in those.
But what matters to him most is the impact he has made in the youngsters that have come through his hands. “When I die one day, I can’t take money to my grave, but I take the prayers of parents and the players I’ve coached with me,” he says.
As days go by, Coach Khan continues to etch his legacy in the hearts of his students and their families.
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By Mthokozisi Dube