Thulani Serero set for superstardom at Ajax Amsterdam
Posted: 24 July 2011 Time: 10:08
It's nearly 13 years since a youngster called Benni McCarthy blazed a trail for South African players in Europe as he fired nine goals for new club Ajax Amsterdam on their way to Dutch league and cup double.
Several Bafana Bafana players - most notably Aaron Mokoena and Steven Pienaar - have been and gone since that 1998 season, but the arrival of the sensational Thulani Serero to the Amsterdam Arena could easily overshadow his compatriots.
The 21-year-old made his first appearance for the four-time champions of Europe on Wednesday and marked his debut with a goal in a 3-0 victory over Danish side Brondby. Having monitored Serero for some time as he learned his trade at Ajax's sister club in Cape Town, you would have thought manager Frank de Boer would have known exactly what he was paying around 2 million euros for back in May but even he admitted to being taken aback at the quality of his new signing.
“Everyone told me how good he was, but even then he surprised me,” De Boer said this week.
“Serero is a player with talent dripping off him. He is incredibly quick and a very clever player.”
High praise indeed, although South African fans will tell you Serero's skill is no secret. He swept the board at the end of season awards just before the deal to Holland was confirmed, relegating treble-winning Orlando Pirates midfielder Andile Jali ( the other top-class talent to have emerged from South Africa in the last five years) to second place.
But while Jali has already become a first-choice for Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane, his good friend Thulani has been used sparingly so far at national team level. That will surely change if, as predicted by de Boer and many others, the boy from Soweto takes the Eredivise by storm.
Quiet and unassuming, Serero lets his feet do the talking on the pitch and has added the ability to score goals to his brilliant passing and dribbling ability. Yet he is by no means the finished product and could certainly have scored plenty more than the 10 goals he managed last season as Ajax Cape Town blew their chances of a first league title on the final day of the season.
A year under the tutelage of Dennis Bergkamp - currently assistant to de Boer - should definitely help, as will his spell staying with a local family provided by the club. That should ensure Serero can do enough to force his way into a team that reclaimed the title for the first time since 2004 last term and will have designs on a place in the Champions League knockout stages.
So as McCarthy trains where it all began for him back in The Mother City, Dutch football should get ready for Mzansi's latest magician.
Read more of Ed Aarons' wrok at http://edaarons.blogspot.com