“I am going to try to make this as brief as possible. I am happy to have my colleagues here, my assistant Serame, my goalkeeper coach Alex and the team doctor. I’m going to tell you what went down exactly word for word, situation for situation. 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 my 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, which was yesterday, in case you forgot, 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 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 I will say no comment…”
I said but you cant 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 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 quite. 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 cant 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 who want to put that jersey on, and 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 when didn’t he tell me when I spoke to him and his coach, and his coach said he needs game time but he s just not interested.
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… cos 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 tries 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 dint 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.
Has he got a future with Bafana?
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. And people are asking why we called it disciplinary, because he is bluffing about his injury, he wants to have the best of both worlds, want his bread buttered on both sides. It is unfortunate that a player sometimes gets to that stage where he needs to settle down and keep his feet on the ground and be advised, and its clearly not happening. A great example is Steven Pienaar who played for Bafana Bafana for a very long time and made the decision that I am a stage where I need to concentrate on my club, so I am going to retire from the national team. As a coach, as a human being you have to respect that because he did everything the right way. But a player that is called up and says I need to play in the Champions League for my club, that is insulting in my opinion, its totally unacceptable and out of order.
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. I have done what’s right for my team, what’s right for the country what is right in my opinion and I have to make those decisions, which I have done. Some might not agree with me say it is a bit harsh but I don’t think so because we have to face up to our responsibilities. He’s a footballer, he was called up and he was fit to play, if he wasn’t he should have just said he was injured.
Where do you think the influence comes from?
I am not in good position to say it comes from the club or anyone for that matter, I don’t know because when I spoke to his coach, he was happy that I called him and said that Thulani needed some game time. And I said I am not going to use for the second game because I am going to give the local players a chance. I do know that his coach has sold their number 10 to England, and it’s a great advantage to Serero.
Thulani had been out for months with injury until he returned recently, so how much do you think that contributed to him not wanting to play?
“No, no, I can see that you are trying to make an excuse okay. If a player didn’t want to come when I spoke to him he should have said coach I just played 30 minutes for my club, and I also finished 90 minutes I am little bit cautious at ‘the moment maybe you shouldn’t call me up for this game because I don’t think I will be n the right frame of mind and I might be thinking about getting injured – but I just felt I should let you know and you make the decision, I would certainly not have called him up, I would have respected that. He flew business class that cost R60 000 to fly over here with the intention of not playing just to say I was in the camp and I got a cap – I am not saying that’s what he is thinking but to me it looks that way. He had not intention of playing from the moment I told him you are going to be starting, he said I have this I have that.” My physio gave a clean bill of health on all the players. They said coach nobody has come for treatment, just massages.
Why did Thulani go to the doctor if he was not injured?
The reason why he did that is because he expects the doctor to come to me. After every training session the doctor always comes and informs me about the players – he (doctor) plays a very huge role. And Thulani knows I will ask the doctor who will maybe say Thulani has a tight muscle, and I will come in and say don’t let him train. Thulani wanted the doctor to say ‘Thulani has a tight muscle don’t use him.
Have you had this altercation with a player before?
First of all it was not an altercation, not at all. And I have never experienced this kind of situation where a player doesn’t want to play. It’s simple, if you have an injury I will not force you to play with an injury, under no circumstances will I do that, it is unacceptable.
What about rumours that he is considering retiring from international football after all this?
“In life, there are decisions to be made. He is 22 and playing for a very big club in Holland, and if he is talking about retirement then he has to make his choices in life. You live and die by the choices you make, he is a young adult. I have heard nothing about him wanting to retire, but if he feels he must retire to put his club first I will never victimize him in any way because there are choices to be made and he can make those choices. But we need to be honest. Don’t try and put a wool over someone’s eyes and try to manipulate situations.”
To the doctor:
Is that tight muscle something that could have healed before Saturday and allowed him to play?
We have a lot of players who come in, who have tight muscles, being tight doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is injured. I mean today we had about 50 percent of players who said they had tight muscles. On the medical examination Thulani was fine, he tolerated all the training sessions, there was no problem and we asked him asked him repeatedly if he was injured, he said no I just don’t want to play. That’s why we have a masseur and a physio because players do get tight.