Even those who admire him 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 he comes across as one of the smuggest‚ big-headed players to have pulled on a Bafana jersey‚ his actions this week appear to confirm that.
Serero has had his run-ins with every Bafana coach he has ever served under. He has often responded to call-ups with the enthusiasm of a wet tea towel.
In September 2013, Gordon Igesund was so incensed at Serero’s 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 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."
In December 2014, Igesund’s successor‚ Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba‚ left Serero out of his 2015 Africa Cup of Nations squad after the player returned home to Soweto from Ajax for his Christmas holidays and had 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 — 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.
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-aleck before he left for Europe and that ugly trait has only grown since.
It is a trait that has been picked up on by the media from Serero in person. He 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 in Polokwane unless he was guaranteed game time.
Baxter had not played Serero in the past three qualifiers — the defeats against Cape Verde and October’s win against Burkina Faso — despite calling up the 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 hints at the perceived big-headedness and reluctance with which Serero can report to Bafana that Baxter said he might have a bigger role for the player against Senegal should he arrive showing a desire to play.
Instead‚ Serero has given Baxter an ultimatum. In simple words, he’s handed the coach a snub.