JOHANNESBURG – Thulani Serero, now christened as the prodigal son of South African football, will have to prove to his national teammates that he, too, wants to help get Bafana Bafana to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
It’s the assertion from coach Stuart Baxter after he recalled the Dutch-based attacking midfielder back to the squad following a year out in the cold, although it was Serero who made it clear he would only feature for Bafana if he is guaranteed playing time.
South Africa host Nigeria in Group E of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in less than two weeks – and due to several injuries to key players, Baxter thought Serero would be useful against the Super Eagles.
Dean Furman, Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly and Kamohelo Mokotjo are all still on the mend and unavailable for this month’s fixture.
“I want the other boys to see the real Thulani and like him,” said Baxter, who was forced to withdraw the player ahead of a crucial World Cup qualifier at home against Senegal about a year ago.
Serero had been famously quoted by the Dutch media as saying “the sofa in Arnhem (where he is based) is better than the South African bench” not long after he’d told team manager Barney Kujane that he didn’t have to book him a flight ticket for that must-win fixture against Senegal.
There are a lot of sceptics about Serero’s sudden return.
And it was reported recently that it was in fact Safa president Danny Jordaan who insisted on the player being recalled to the national team despite an unofficial ban issued out by then-chief executive Dennis Mumble, who is himself in limbo at the moment because he is yet to sign a new contract with the association.
Blessed with yet another call-up 😊It's always an honor being given the opportunity to represent my country 🇿🇦🇿🇦 #BafanaKaofela #SmashTheLabel #PassionDriven #Team16_32 #GodIsGreat 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/A5QVllRwKy
Baxter said on Monday that he included Serero without being pushed by anyone to do so. “Serero said he wanted to play again,” the coach explained.
“I spoke to him, and we are on the same page. His return is unconditional – and he assured me this was the case. I was delighted to hear that.
“It’s not open the door and close it like an old Wild West saloon. It matters what sort of environment we have around the national team – the code of conduct the public wants from the national team.
“He is national-team material, and an impact player. My assumption is that anyone can make a poor decision and that Thulani made a poor decision at the time.
“But he gets a second chance with me.”
Will he sulk again if he is left out?
“I think he has qualities we will need, the mobility and the vision to see a pass and the one-on-one in tight areas. I spoke to him and we are on the same page.
“Thulani expects no guarantees. His return is unconditional. But we will see.
“If I decide to substitute him with a few minutes to go for a defender, it is important for Thulani to know that he will get on with it without conditions,” said Baxter.
Bafana Bafana Squad
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Ronwen Williams (SuperSport United), Darren Keet (Wits).
Defenders: Ramahlwe Mphahlele (Chiefs), Motjeka Madisha (Mamelodi Sundowns), Siyanda Xulu (Maritzburg United), Innocent Maela (Orlando Pirates), Thulani Hlatshwayo, S’fiso Hlanti, Buhle Mkhwanazi (all Wits), Thamsanqa Mkhize (Cape Town City).
Midfielders: Vincent Pule, Thembinkosi Lorch (all Pirates), Fortune Makaringe (Maritzburg), Lebohang Maboe, Hlompho Kekana, Tiyani Mabunda (all Sundowns), Teboho Mokoena (SuperSport), Thulani Serero (Vitesse)
Strikers: Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg), Percy Tau (Royal Union), Dino Ndlovu (Zhejiang), Themba Zwane (Sundowns).