As Thulani Serero prepares to fly out of the country next Saturday, he is all too aware that the trip from OR Tambo Airport to Amsterdam has been undertaken by others before.
Some, such as Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar, were hugely successful as they left the domestic Premiership to become household names in the tough European market, having been nurtured through the Ajax Cape Town structures as youngsters.
Serero departs for Ajax Amsterdam a week today, but he knows emulating McCarthy and Pienaar is no easy feat. Some of his team-mates before him – in particular Stanton Lewis and Daylon Claasen – went to Amsterdam amid much promise but left in a huff without making an impact, and this so wearied Serero that he sought their counsel in the days that followed his signing.
“I have spoken to Stanton and Daylon about what to expect there. They have given me advice as to what went wrong with them … why they didn’t make it. They have given me some tips and I’m confident that I can avoid all the pitfalls and establish myself there,” Serero said this week.
He would not reveal exactly what Lewis and Claasen told him, with Lewis suffering the ignominy of returning to the domestic league and still uncertain of where he’ll play next season. At least Claasen remained in Europe and is a regular for Belgian side Lierse.
Serero, however, is not merely looking to avoid a quick return flight to OR Tambo; he wants to establish himself as a household name in the same manner that McCarthy and Pienaar did. “I will look to speak to Pienaar, too, before going there. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m sure he can guide me a lot. I’m willing to work hard to make sure I don’t fail,” he said.
Serero will arrive in Amsterdam to find that expectations have soared even higher since he passed a trial there in April. In the subsequent weeks, he won an unprecedented four awards – including Footballer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year – at the annual Premier Soccer League awards dinner.
But having left such an indelible mark on the domestic game, he is aware the level is much higher on the other side, with Ajax under pressure to make an impact in the Champions League and seeking to retain the Eredivisie title.
“I want to become a regular first. Playing Champions League would be a dream. It’s one thing seeing it on the TV, but playing in such a competition is a big step. I’m looking forward to it.”
PSL teams, and not least defenders, tormented by the Mapetla, Soweto-born attacking midfielder throughout the past season will sigh with relief to see the back of Serero. But at 21, surely his family would wish he was not leaving so soon? “Not really. I’m used to being away from my family – I left them to go to Ajax Cape Town as a teenager – so it won’t be a problem,” he said.
In Amsterdam he will find another familiar face – that of Enoh Eyong, the Cameroonian who also enjoyed a memorable spell at Ikamva in 2007/08 before being snatched by the Holland side.
Eyong is a regular for both Ajax and Cameroon – he played for the Indomitable Lions during last year’s World Cup here – and starting for club and country has now become Serero’s main ambition.
”I will still come back to represent my country. Whether at Under-23 level or Bafana, it doesn’t matter. I want to be involved with both the national teams because it’s important not to skip any level.”
* Nkareng Matshe spoke to Serero at the Nike Tiempo boot launch this week.
* Follow Matshe on twitter on @Nkareng