A Dutch-master from Mzansi
Harare – It has taken Thulani Serero three tough years but, after a stellar season in which he won the Dutch Eredivisie title and scored a beauty in Ajax Amsterdam’s unforgettable Champions League win over Barcelona, the South African international forward can feel he has finally arrived on the European football shores.
The 24-year-old was just a bit-part player at the Dutch giants when they won two back-to-back league titles and his contribution was considered insignificant, in terms of the number of matches he played, he wasn’t given a winners’ medal in those first two seasons.
Tensions at home didn’t help matters, either, with Serero running into difficulties to impose himself in the Bafana Bafana team, while at the same time struggling to handle his transformation into a European-based player, with his patchy performance way short of the expectations of the fans.
Matters came to a head last year when Serero had public fallout with Bafana Bafana coach, Gordon Igesund, and the South African Football Association then announcing that the forward had been banned from playing for his nation.
But, amid the turmoil at home, Serero found his touch in Europe and, for the first time since his move to Holland, turned into an integral member of the Ajax team playing in 28 of their 33 matches this season.
His coach, Dutch legend Frank de Boer, singled out Serero for special mention as the Dutch giants celebrated their 33rd league title at in Amsterdam.
De Boer, who is set to leave Ajax and join English Premiership giants Tottenham Hotspur during the European summer, said Thulelo was a raw gem, which needed a lot of polishing, when he first arrived at the club having been crowned the best player in South Africa four years ago.
“When Serero joined Ajax he was a basic player and he needed to work at his game to become a finished product,” De Boer said in comments that were published on the official website of their South African feeder club, Ajax Cape Town, where Serero made his name. “At first Thulani’s play was untidy and he lost the ball too easily. He has since improved and now he is the heartbeat of this team. “He determines the rhythm of our play.
“I would also like to commend Dennis Bergkamp and Hennie Spijkerman for their contribution in improving the play of Serero and the Ajax team as a whole. This League Title win was a team effort.”
For a man who played just seven games in his first season, 2011/2012, nine games in his second season, 2012/2013, to then play 28 games this season and, crucially, be described by his coach as the “heartbeat of this team”, illustrates just how much the South African star has progressed.
Being one of the players who made more than 25 league appearances, Serero is set to earn US$430 000 in bonuses, a huge return for a man who earns US$600 000 a year for playing for the Dutch giants.
The Eredivisie has a rule which stipulates that the non-European players registered in the league cannot earn less than 400 000 euros per year and this is meant to discourage teams from bringing in foreign players of very average talent.
Serero’s contract comes to an end next season but the Dutch giants haven’t opened negotiations with the player or his agent for an extension, which has given rise to speculation that the South African forward could be primed for a move to England.
With De Boer favoured to move to Spurs during the European summer, it’s very likely, given the way Serero has evolved to become the heartbeat of his team at Ajax, he could take him to London.
The Ajax coach told Dutch national broadcaster NOS that he had been informed of Spurs’ interests in his services.
“I'm going to listen and talk,” he said.
“Then I'll make my feelings known. I want to add something to a club, so that people can say that they see the hand of Frank de Boer. Liverpool are a good example of this with Brendan Rodgers,” he said.
Then, in a newspaper with Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, he said: “It is very quiet here on my phone, and also for my agent. I am not busy with all that. “My contract with Ajax runs until 2017, so until that time I will only think about Ajax or serious offers.”
Asked if he would turn down an offer from Spurs, de Boer replied: “No, why should I? I was interviewed by NOS and gave an honest answer.
“There were already rumours for a longer time. So I thought within a couple of seconds, I should speak with openness.”
Serero’s contract with Ajax comes to an end in June next year but, although the Dutch club haven’t opened negotiations for an extension, there is no need for his camp to panic given that there are now good prospects for them to get the South African international into a bigger league on the back of his impressive show this season.
Last year, Serero was linked with a move to English Premiership side, Fulham, when they were still under the guidance of Dutchman Martin Jol but the forward dismissed the link.
“I have not been approached,” Serero told Live Sport. “I’ve only read about it in the media, my agent knows nothing. I would not worry about it at this stage.”
Of course, he didn’t need any worries. After all, he had grabbed headlines around the world by scoring a goal in Ajax’s stunning victory over Barcelona in the Champions League, to cap a good performance by the forward against the Catalans, and he had introduced himself to the globe. The rest, as they say in this game, simply follows.