Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has explained his decision to release Thulani Serero from camp in full detail.
The Ajax Amsterdam midfielder was released ahead of Bafana’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Botswana on disciplinary reason, with the Siya crew reporting that it was down to the player’s attitude and his decision to ask to not be involved.
Igesund then went on to explain the full story via a statement on SAFA’s official website, saying, “On Thursday I had already informed Thulani Serero that he’s been excellent at training, he’s performing well and I need him to take it to the next step. I said to him everyone in this country knows he plays in Holland but you need to show the people in this country what kind of a player you are.
“I said, ‘I’m going to tell you right now that I’m going to start you on Saturday (against Botswana). I want you to start expressing yourself and getting in the right frame of mind’. I know he is a type of player that I need to get into his mind and start working. He trained on Thursday and he then went to my team doctor to tell him he’s got a tight muscle in his thigh/groin area. The doctor checked him out and said he is okay – you are 100% and there is a no groin injury, I have maybe six or seven in the team with tight muscles at the moment, you are fine, good warm up, good massage and train. He trained that session and again he was outstanding, looking very good and moving the ball around, taking on players, shooting, excellent.
“On Friday, my assistant coach Serame came to me and he said Thulani Serero had approached him and he doesn’t want to play. So I said why doesn’t he want to play, and he (Serame) said Thulani felt that he might get injured and he needs to play for his team (Ajax Amsterdam). So I was quite shocked with that and I called Serero, and I called my doctor and I called my assistant coach to a meeting in my room. And I said to Thulani, my coach tells me that you don’t want to play. I said ‘Are you injured’? He said no, no, no he is not injured. I said you are not injured but you don’t want to play. He said ‘I have a tight muscle and I’m scared I might injure myself’. So I said, ‘Thulani, you’ve got to work with me here son. First of all you know I want you in the team and now you say you don’t want to play’ and I am going to be asked the question why aren’t you playing, what do you want me to say? I tried to protect him because he is a young boy, I tried to protect him like I do with all my players, Lerato Chabangu is an example. He said if they ask me he will say no comment…
“I said but you can’t say no comment, when you take your wife to the doctor to find out if she is pregnant they going to say yes she is or she is not, the doctor will not say you are half pregnant. And that’s what I tried to get through to him, are you injured or not injured. He said no I have a very tight muscle. And it went on and on, I tried to get him to tell me that he is hurting somewhere.
“I said to him Thulani when you are running, and you are turning or twisting or going past players, are you feeling something? He said I don’t feel anything. I feel nothing, but I am just scared I am going to get injured. Then I got a little bit annoyed with him because he continuously said that, and the feeling I was getting is that he didn’t want to play, he wanted to say he had a tight muscle, he wanted me to say ok I will leave him out of the team and go back and be rosy with his team back there because there won’t be a report that he is injured when he goes back, and will say the coach left me out because I had a tight muscle and he though I shouldn’t play, nothing about him being injured.
“The doctor was there and I said doctor I need to know from you, I really need to know from you... has Thulani got a slight injury?’ The doctor said he doesn’t have an injury and he’s got a tight muscle like six or seven other players. And then the doctor turned to Serero and said ‘Serero tell the coach, tell the coach’ and Serero kept quiet. The doctor kept on saying ‘tell the coach, tell the coach’. And then I said is there something I am missing here, what must he tell me? The doctor has informed me that Serero said Í don’t want to play, we have a big game in Holland next week in the UEFA Champions League and I can’t afford to get injured. So I still asked Serero again, I said Serero I have to make a decision, and I said are you injured and it was the same story.
“Then after about an hour we were getting peeved because there was no patriotism there, it was just a case of keeping quiet and he doesn’t want to play for South Africa, when I want a team of passionate players who want to play for South Africa. A player is told two days before that he is going to play and will almost have a free role and I am going to play in a certain way so you can express yourself, then says I don’t to play because I have an important game in the Champions League for my club, I can’t take that, that is unacceptable. We love our country, yes, we want to play for it, yes and we are proud of it, yes. Then I was annoyed because why did he even come, why didn’t he tell me when I spoke to him and his coach.
“Then the goalkeeper coach said we are going around the bush are you injured or not injured?’ he said ‘I am not injured but I have a thigh muscle’, but he was very arrogant at this stage. Then he stood up and said, ‘If you want me to say I’m injured, then I will say I’m injured’. That really got me going… because I want him to play, that’s what I want. At that stage the doctor said ‘coach we need to be very honest’ because he (doctor) had to give report and if the coach tried to protect the player and we say he is injured but the player says he has no comment, that is not the right thing to do, secondly my doctor has to give a report about what happened in camp, and it goes to our CEO. The truth of the matter is that Thulani Serero turned his back on us because he wants to play in the Champions League.
“It was not a rushed decision. I told him to go to his room and I went downstairs and my technical team went to a meeting for this game, I applied my mind and I thought about it and I made a decision that I made because I didn’t want anything to unsettle the team that I had there, that was so passionate and love this game. And I know I have done the right thing in that respect. After about three hours, I called the head of delegation, I called my technical team, I called my team manager and told them I have made my decision – ‘I would like to release Thulani Serero from the camp,’ but let’s not kick him out but I want you Barney Kujane to personally hold his hand and take him to the hotel next door, make sure he has his meals, make sure he has his breakfast make sure he gets his lift to the airport tomorrow and make sure he gets on the plane to where he so desperately wanted to be. And that is exactly what happened.”
Asked if the player still had a future with the national team, he added, “I don’t want to be too critical of the player because he is a youngster. And he is still learning. But I am very, very surprised with his attitude about certain things and the big head he seems to have developed – like he is better than the rest of the players. On the question about his future with Bafana Bafana, I don’t like to make quick and hasty decisions, he might be called into a hearing, I will give my report to SAFA and I have done my job.”
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