COMMENT: Serero often responded to Bafana with the enthusiasm of a wet tea towel

08 November 2017 - 14:45
By Marc Strydom
Thulani Serero of South Africa celebrates his goal during 2018 World Cup Qualifiers match between South Africa and Senegal at Peter Mokaba Stadium, November on the 12 November 2016.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix Thulani Serero of South Africa celebrates his goal during 2018 World Cup Qualifiers match between South Africa and Senegal at Peter Mokaba Stadium, November on the 12 November 2016.

Even those who admire him from afar from the stands or on their TV sets have always suspected Thulani Serero might leave Bafana Bafana in the lurch at a big moment at some stage.

If Serero comes across as one of the smuggest‚ big-headed players to have pulled on a Bafana Bafana jersey‚ his actions this week only appear to confirm that.

Serero has had his run-ins with every Bafana coach he’s ever served under.

He’s often responded to call-ups with the enthusiasm of a wet tea towel.

In September 2013 Gordon Igesund was so incensed at Serero’s deceptive behaviour trying to get out of Bafana’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Botswana in Durban that the coach had the then-Ajax Amsterdam player escorted from the beachfront team hotel and taken to one next door.

Explaining his decision‚ Igesund said then: “He [Serero] went to the doctor and told him that he felt a tight muscle‚ and then told the doctor he didn’t want to play because he had a big Champions League game coming up this week‚ and he didn’t want to get injured.”

Igesund raised a red flag over “the big head he seems to have developed”.

In December 2014 Igesund’s successor‚ Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba‚ left Serero out of his 2015 Africa Cup of Nations squad after the player had returned home to Soweto from Ajax for his Christmas holidays and not turned up for a pre-tournament camp.

Serero had apparently been shooting the breeze with friends and family and neglected to answer or return the national coach’s phone calls.

It says something for the approach taken by the South African Football Association (Safa)‚ repeatedly banning or threatening to ban players who refuse to honour call-ups‚ then backtracking‚ that they later made Mashaba bring Serero back into the national fold.

This largely hamstrung Mashaba on his future approach when he wanted to get tough on overseas-based prima donnas with a similar attitude to Serero’s.

Although it would be hard to find a current player quite so openly aloof and quite so smugly reticent about turning out for his national team except when it suits him.

It might be hard to get Stuart Baxter‚ Mashaba and Igesund in the same room together at all‚ let alone to agree on anything.

The three are not outwardly opposed to each other‚ but they hardly seem likely to send each other Christmas cards either.

But one thing they probably would agree on is that Serero was a smug smart-ass before he left for Europe‚ and that ugly trait has only grown over the years since.

It’s a trait that has been picked up on by the media from Serero in person.

Serero has been notoriously media-shy‚ and when he does give interviews it’s like putting a firecracker behind a tortoise.

There are probably two sides to this latest‚ rather unsurprising development in the Serero story – his demand that he would not report to camp for Friday’s must-win qualifier against Senegal at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane unless he was guaranteed game time.

Baxter had not played Serero in the last three qualifiers – the defeats against Cape Verde and last month’s win against Burkina Faso – despite calling up the now-Vitesse Arnhem player.

Serero’s awards as player of the month in August and September in the Eredevisie appeared to bring into question the coach’s decision.

But it gives hint to the perceived big-headedness and reluctance with which Serero can report to Bafana that Baxter had said he might have a bigger role for the player against Senegal should he arrive showing his desire to play.

Instead‚ Serero has given Baxter an ultimatum. In simple words he’s handed the coach and Bafana teammates a snub.

Serero can be a match winner.

Given his talent‚ though‚ his performances for Bafana have always depended on which Serero decided to show up on the day‚ and seemingly what playing well could achieve for the player at that time in his career.

Because it is the timing of this snub – for a must-win game that Bafana’s 2018 Russia World Cup place is riding on – that indicates a particular level of self-centredness.

And this at a time when Itumeleng Khune‚ who has also suffered being dropped at times when out of form‚ but has contributed so much more to the Bafana cause in his career‚ has pitched up with a horror facial injury asking to play with a face mask.

So if Serero’s not showing up at all‚ it’s a pity‚ but a snub that Bafana and Baxter should take from where it came.