Keagan Buchanan appeared destined for greatness at the age of 24, when he was handed the No. 10 jersey at Kaizer Chiefs in 2016. But things didn’t go according to plan and he was forced to pick himself up at Maritzburg United and justify the fanfare around his initial signing.
In a short space of time in the Midlands, the midfielder has more than matched the hype by fixing United’s midfield with his genius strokes and match temperament, earning his position as one of the team’s trusted players. He has hardly set a foot wrong at the Team of Choice in a storming season that has seen them reach the final of the Telkom Knockout just six months after they saved their status in the play-offs.
Buchanan is flourishing now, but it has been a bumpy ride. After signing his contract with Maritzburg United in 2018, he suffered a knee injury during training. “It has not been easy coming back from career-threatening injuries. Most people say you don’t come back the same from an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] injury. But with me it has been different; I’ve had three in the space of nine years,” he said.
“I feel like people don’t really understand how big the ACL injury is. Most of the time, when the players in Europe have it, you see fans writing their names on T-shirts to wish them well. It’s not an easy injury to come back [from]. When I was going through the injuries, which is a difficult phase, I had to ask myself why am I getting the same injury every time? I had to teach myself to understand my body and my style of play to avoid this type of injury only after the third injury. The most difficult thing about this type of injury is being out of play for a long time. But I had to be mentally strong.”
Personal cost of injury
Despite the injuries, at no point did he feel like giving up on the beautiful game, said Buchanan. “Every time when I got injured, I had always believed that I’d come back and do better. With my first injury, I came back, worked hard and that’s how I earned a contract with Chiefs. Unfortunately, things did not work the way I expected at Chiefs.”
Buchanan made only four starts in two seasons at Amakhosi. He said his style of play and Chiefs did not complement each other at the time.
“When one is playing for a big team like Chiefs, they need to understand that there is a lot of pressure there,” Buchanan said. “They are a big team. The coach doesn’t have time to be patient with the player. The player must hit the ground running. I feel that maybe I did not do enough to get the playing time.
“My style maybe did not fit in with coach Steve Komphela’s style. Maybe I should have changed my playing style. I don’t have a problem with coach Steve – I can safely say that whatever happened at Chiefs was football. Chiefs has always been my favourite team. I don’t have any bad blood with Chiefs and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”
The soft-spoken footballer said a return to the Naturena-based outfit does not matter to him right now. “Everyone dreams of playing for the big team. Fortunately, I’ve been there. So, to me, going back to Chiefs doesn’t even matter now. All I want is to play football regularly, which is something that I’m doing right now.”
Finding his groove in the Midlands
The Cape Town-born player is playing his second season with the Team of Choice, and is grateful to be able to put in a sterling performance for Maritzburg after they supported him while injured.
“I had to come back stronger. Obviously, the club showing faith in me boosted my confidence. Everything is all about perspective. If the chairman is keeping you in his club while injured, it shows that he has faith in your playing ability. The club was backing me; all I needed to do is to show the club that I’m capable. It wasn’t a big thing because I’m confident about what I bring to the table. It’s good that I’m giving these good performances. It’s more like saying to them thank you for not throwing in the towel.
“I think I’m a perfect fit for Maritzburg and they are the perfect fit for me. I’m very happy here and I think that my performance is showing that I’m happy. What made me thrive is that the team is playing attacking football, and it’s easy for me to put out the best performance because I’m an attacking player.”
What the future holds
Buchanan’s contract runs to the end of this season which has been suspended indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Maritzburg have the option to renew it for another year, but he is not worried about it.
“I’m not focusing on leaving. If there are any offers, that’s the chairman’s problem. I’m focusing on playing and enjoying myself. If the chairman feels that it’s a good offer, then we will have to sit down with the chairman and discuss it further.
“If the time comes that I have to leave, there are so many things that I have to consider. I’m no longer young; I have to look at my financial part first. I need to go to the team that I’ll fit in and be able to put in my best performance. For me, it’s all about me playing and my financial wellbeing,” he explained.
Even though he had a good run with Bloemfontein Celtic in 2014-2015, Buchanan is getting more enjoyment out of playing football now.
“This season has been good to me, it’s been the best by far in my professional career,” he said. “I’ve managed to put on my best performances. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to end it on a high. It will be great if I can end it injury-free.”
Buchanan, who started playing football at the age of seven, said building a strong foundation by progressing through the development phases made him a better player. It also enabled him to make better decisions on and off the pitch.
“I always knew that I was destined to be a sportsman,” he said. “I’ve played cricket, hockey and swimming provincially, but I ended up choosing football because it was my first love. I believe that I should have been far when it comes to playing football, but because of injuries I have not reached where I wanted to.
“Leaving home at a young age has built me to being a better person who is able to adapt in any situation, especially in football. Playing at academies has moulded me to being a better player. I’ve played for Vasco da Gama, Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town, of which I think Ajax… it’s one of the best academies I went to at that time.”