Dr Khumalo’s son loves soccer – but it’s not because of his famous father
“I wanted him to find soccer himself."
Doc Khumalo and Diego Khumlo (PHOTO: ROWYN LOMBARD)

The little boy made his media debut 7 years ago when he was just 3 years old, posing for DRUM with his mom and dad.

And while Diego Khumalo doesn’t remember that day, he’s paged through the article about a gazillion times, poring over the pictures of himself with his parents. Today he’s back in our studio, working the camera like a pro and striking confident poses with his famous father.

“I also want to become a soccer player like my dad,” he’s quick to tell us.

“I play striker for my school.” Theophilus Doctorson “Doc” Khumalo is far more reserved as a model and looks at his son with pride. “The way he talks is impressive,” he says. “His football knowledge is outstanding – he knows who’s who in local and international football.”

The 50-year-old, who made his debut at Kaizer Chiefs as a 20-year-old in the Soweto derby against Orlando Pirates in 1987 and ended his career as a star midfielder at Chiefs, swears Diego’s love of soccer has little to do with him. In fact, he says, he’s made a point from the word go to not influence his son when it comes to the game that made him famous.

“I wanted him to find soccer himself,” says Doc, who also touted his talent at clubs in America and Argentina during his playing days.

He then went into coaching – and built up a CV as impressive as the one he had as a player: South African Under-17 national coach, South African Football Association level 1, 2 and 3 coaching licenses, an English Football Association licence and a Uefa B licence through the German Football Federation – the list goes on. He was also head coach for the Kaizer Chiefs Under-17 team until late last year when he moved to Limpopo-based Baroka FC as a technical director.

Despite Doc’s illustrious career, Diego had no idea his dad was a famous soccer personality when he was growing up. The little boy was often stumped when fans would stop them in public and ask Doc to pose for pictures or for his autograph. “He’d ask me, ‘Daddy, why are they taking pictures of you? Did you steal something?’ I didn’t want to say I’m so-and-so. I wanted him to find out for himself, like I did with my dad.

"I grew up around the likes of Kaizer Motaung, but it only clicked when I was older who he was and who my dad was.”

His dad was, of course, Eliakim “Pro” Khumalo, a talented midfielder in the 1960s and early 1970s who played for Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs. He was tragically killed in a hijacking in 1996, shattering the family.

It isn’t the only tragedy Doc has had to deal with: 21 years later his firstborn, daughter Theonada (25), was killed in a car accident in Melville, Johannesburg, on 12 July last year.

Burying a child, he says, was the worst experience of his life. Doc still finds it hard to talk about his daughter’s death.

“I can’t deal with it – it’s still painful. I can’t believe she’s not here anymore.” His grief often hits him when he’s alone, but he tries to be strong for his family. He changes the subject to focus on his 10-year-old son.

He’s a very strict father, Doc admits, and uses some of his dad’s parenting strategies on his children.

“Things have to be done the way they were when I was brought up.” Doc acknowledges a lot has changed over the years and that “modern kids” are exposed to much more than he was as a child. But, he adds, while he’s open to modern adjustments, he will not compromise on culture.

“Kids need to know who they are and where they come from. Diego spends a lot of time with my mom [Mable] in Spruitview [south of Johannesburg] where he’s taught the Khumalo values.” He adds that with so many “negative things” going on in society these days, parents are under a lot more pressure to excel and raise wellbalanced kids.

“As a parent you’d like to give your kids a certain lifestyle. I don’t want to deny my kids anything but at the same time I also don’t want to spoil them.” However, he readily admits that Diego, who’s in Grade 5, gives him a run for his money. “He has an adventurous spirit,” Doc says. “He’s quite popular at school and, believe me, it’s not because he’s my son – it’s because he’s a friendly, confident and sweet child who makes friends quite easily.”

Although soccer plays a big role in the life of this father and son, Doc tries to encourage a balance in Diego’s life, which is why he stresses the importance of education. Doc helps his son with his homework and has installed apps on Diego’s iPad for English and maths, which they do together.

“At his age I’m starting to enjoy him more. We have long conversations about anything and everything and he’s a straightforward person – he will tell you if you’ve done something wrong!

“He asked me why I left Chiefs and what kind of team Baroka is. He’s quite inquisitive. I told him it was time to grow my brand and myself.”

Doc may never have imposed soccer on his son but the love of the game runs thick and fast in the boy’s veins. Diego has a natural talent, Doc says, even though he’s still in the development stage. “It’s still early days and while he plays midfielder for a football club in Bedfordview, at this stage he’s just having fun. He’s left-footed while I’m right-footed but he has amazing skills.”

Diego is a fan of stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and keeps a keen eye on his namesake in the soccer fraternity, Spanish striker Diego Costa. His son has set his sights on playing overseas one day but “time will tell”, his dad says.

“Right now it’s all about him enjoying the game but also giving his all to his education.”

The game of soccer has evolved, Doc adds. “There’s technical awareness and application and a whole new science to the game. It’s all about speed these days and while our boys are adjusting, there are hiccups and there’s always room for improvement.”

Spoken like the measured coach he has become. If Diego does go all the way he won’t need to look far for advice.

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