Thursday, 1 January 2015

THE TRUTH ABOUT THULANI SERERO'S AXE: he arrived early, didn't report for Bafana. Was it miscommunication or arrogance that drove Shakes Mashaba "berserk"?

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AXED: Thulani Serero, South Africa's ONLY Champions League star
THE story of Thulani Serero’s shock omission from South Africa’s final AFCON 2015 squad is not complicated. Nor is it particularly surprising. But, as a mole inside SAFA told me (see grab of DM below) it WAS very badly handled.

In the initial after-shock of hearing that Bafana Bafana’s only current Champions League player had been thrown out, head coach Shakes Mashaba issued a few surprising statements as he attempted to avoid the issue, much as Gordon Igesund did when confronted with the same player’s shenanigans a year ago in Durban (September 2013, that story is HERE

Mashaba, who lost his Bafana post despite positive results a decade ago for his unyielding attitude to big name foreign stars, told us: “There are other players who proved better than Serero”; that “It would take a year if I had to discuss this decision” and “I’ve dropped 11 players, we should talk about all of them”.

Technically, those were lies. Serero wasn't even in camp to compare him with other players. But understandable given the circumstances. Meanwhile Serero was on the official Ajax website saying he would "love to represent my country at such an important tournament".

Was this another case of Mashaba dropping a young foreign star while picking EIGHT tried and failed stars from AFCON 2013? Or did he have just cause for axing 24-year-old Serero, who appeared to have kissed and made up with both Igesund and SAFA?

Decide for yourself. Here’s what happened:

Thulani Serero, unlike the six members of the provisional squad based in Belgium and England, DID have a Christmas break. The Ere Divisie shuts down for the Festive Season  Ajax Amsterdam don't play again until January 16. So Serero leapt on a plane to his friends and family in Soweto, just outside Johannesburg, and was seen attending the Discovery football tournament before Christmas.

While Dean Furman, Anele Ngcongca and Darren Keet played over Christmas, Serero arrived in Johannesburg on December 22. I believe the flight booked for him by SAFA a week later was either cancelled or ignored. Meanwhile the local PSL players gathered on Boxing Day to prepare with Mashaba and his technical team, attending medical checks before an initial training session on December 28.

While Andile Jali (knee) and Tokelo Rantie (shoulder) turned up for camp early to have their injuries cleared after missing recent games for Oostende in Belgium and high-flying Bournemouth in England, Serero did NOT appear.

According to my source at SAFA, Serero was in Jozi and the surrounds telling players already in camp he was “an automatic choice” and would join the final Bafana 23-man squad for Equatorial Guinea on January 2.

And that’s the problem. While Furman, Keet and Ngcongca were allowed some leeway, Serero’s Christmas Break and early arrival in South Africa got the players talking. And word reached Mashaba who “went berserk”.

This is the true story of Serero’s exclusion. I am told Serero was not aware that he had to report for Bafana with the Boxing Day crew because he had a later flight booked. When I said that on twitter, SAFA Communications Director Dominic Chimhavi, an honourable man who does his job properly, told me I was mis-informed.

I asked him to correct me, get to the truth. I asked: “Did Serero arrive early in South Africa? Did he fail to report for Bafana? Did he know when and where to report?”

Chimhavi, who has subsequently deleted his tweets, confirmed: “That’s a yes to all three questions.”

Shortly afterwards the DMs and SMSs began arriving as Twitter responded to these revelations. Among the messages from angry SAFA officials, Bafana loyalists and agents claiming their players had to be informed of their fate by the media, one good source stood out.

Good source: my DM on Twitter revealing Serero details
I cannot name the bloke, but here’s what he sent me, you can just about read it on the screen grab!

“Same to you mate. I actually enjoyed the interaction. The young boy (Serero) shot himself in the foot, although the matter was not properly handled.

“He arrived in the country on 22 Dec, never went to camp but attended Soweto Games and boasted to those in camp that he will see them on 2 Dec.

“Shakes lost it. He went berserk.”

 I checked on the date and the source corrected it to Friday, 2 January – tomorrow, saying: “Sorry, yes Friday 2 Jan; making himself an automatic choice. These young boys!!!”

So there it is. Serero IS good enough, as he was during qualifying. Nobody should question his talent. His exclusion should have been truthfully dealt with. In fact, he should be banned as "fatigued" May Mahlangu was for failing to attend the last Bafana gathering, if SAFA are to be seen as consistent.

Our “Group of Death” AFCON opponents Algeria, Senegal and Ghana will be completely flummoxed by the arrival and departure of Serero and Ayanda Patosi, foreign-based stars who flew 18000km for NOTHING.

They will also question the absence of Mahlangu and FC Twente’s Kamahelo Mokotjo, cast out after travelling to Johannesburg, Khartoum, Cape Town and then back to Enschede without a minute on the pitch during Mashaba’s opening two Group A qualifiers against Sudan and Nigeria.

They will also wonder whether Rantie, the two-goal hero away to Nigeria in the final qualifier, is fit after his partial shoulder dislocation suffered during a minute-long appearance for Bournemouth in November. Certainly he has not played for the Cherries since as they lead the Championship, en route to the Premier League.

And Jali’s knee, which forced him out of Oostende’s last Belgian league game, will be a concern too.

But as I have said before, unbeaten Mashaba topped his qualifying group. He has a knack of doing the right thing when the critics stand open-mouthed. Apart from the mysterious absence of Kaizer Chiefs defender Tefu Mashamaite, I cannot fault his final squad given Serero’s tale.

The starting XI for Algeria on January 18 is all that matters now. With Reneilwe Letsholonyane suspended for the opening game after his red card against Nigeria, Chippa United’s Thamsanqa Sangweni – brother of Orlando Pirates former Bafana captain Siya – has to be a contender ahead of the likes of Thuso Phala and Oupa Manyisa, hardly burning up the PSL with SuperSport United and Pirates this season.

That leaves Sundowns midfielder Bongani Zungu, who scored in the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Ivory Coast last month, to provide width, something he did with some style in his early days at AmaTuks. Full-back Thabo Matlaba, not a fixture at Pirates right now due to squad rival Patrick Phungwayo, likes to get forward too and Parker tends to drift wide at Chiefs. Team-mate Mandla Masango provides a wide alternative, as does Phala.

Here's my AFCON starting XI to play Algeria in the opening Group C game on January 18: Darren Keet; Anele Ngcongca, Tower Mathoho, Tyson Hlatshwayo, Thabo Matlaba; Thami Sangweni, Dean Furman, Andile Jali, Bongani Zungu; Bernard Parker, Tokelo Rantie.

My source tells me Jali’s knee will be ready for Algeria, if not for the friendly against Zambia at Orlando on Sunday. The same applies for Rantie, who has not played for six weeks. Further friendlies against Mali and Cameroon in Gabon will give Mashaba room to experiment.

Feel free to tweet your Bafana starting line-up to or comment below. And please click on the red button above to vote for me in the SA Blog of the Year awards!

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