Igesund was a tad too harsh

11 September 2013 - 03:21 By Carlos Amato

GIiven that my own management skills are barely stronger than those of the average kudu, I am ill-qualified to lecture anybody on the art of national team coaching.

But you don't have to be Vicente del Bosque to see that Gordon Igesund's handling of Thulani Serero this week was clumsy. In an effort to be seen to be firm, the Bafana coach has succeeded only in needlessly embarrassing and alienating his most gifted player.

We're often told that the greatest coaches treat all their players fairly and consistently. That's not actually true. A football pitch is not a test tube, and footballers - even though they often sound a bit like single-celled organisms - don't do the same things under the same conditions.

Some stars need more indulgence and patience than others. Some players will be gravely offended by a coach's barely audible sigh, whereas others need regular hairdrier treatments to feel alive and important. Some players will run through a brick wall for you. Others will imagine a brick wall where there isn't one, and refuse to run through it. The wall-hallucinators tend to be quite good.

Which is not to suggest that Serero was imagining the familiar pain he felt in his groin before Bafana's game against Botswana. Pain can't be proved or disproved. Serero felt it, and asked not to play, though team doctor Carl Tabane denied he was injured. Igesund should have realised that Serero was afraid. It's no exaggeration to say he felt his career was hanging in the balance.

A Champions League fixture against Barcelona looms, with Serero poised to inherit the playmaking throne of the departed Christian Eriksen.

Everyone at Ajax can see Serero's brilliance, but his resilience has been in doubt since the first injury he picked up in Amsterdam, a month after he moved north from Cape Town in 2011. In two seasons, he has played 25-odd games in all competitions. So this month is his fork in the road. He must prove that (a) he's the business and (b) that his muscles are not made of Marie biscuits.

Some have claimed that Serero rates himself rather highly. In other news, some bears have reportedly pooped in the woods of Alaska. A bit of attitude is entirely normal for a young player of Serero's ability.

He trousers north of R8-million a year, and he plays for a far bigger club than any of his Bafana comrades - yes, Ajax are not as mighty as they were, but they still churn out elite players for the richest clubs in Europe.

Now that Bafana have nothing important to do until this time next year, perhaps it's a good thing if Serero is left in peace to make his name in the loftiest heights of club football.

And in the meantime, Igesund might consider refining his approach. Several previous Bafana coaches have tried to put star players "in their place" but that strategy doesn't work. All it does is put those stars out of reach.