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Apr 29, 2014

Serero enjoying the winning feeling at Ajax

That winning feeling. At least one South African footballer abroad is experiencing it.

Thulani Serero, the 24-year-old midfielder from Johannesburg's Soweto township, enjoyed a third successive Dutch title with Ajax Amsterdam and this time he was eligible to claim a share of the loot too. Although Serero has been part of both previous league successes in Ajax's hat trick of titles, he had not featured enough to warrant a medal. This season, he has.

Serero played in 28 of the team's 33 matches and has been among the goal-scorers but the strike he will be remembered for did not come in the league at all. Serero netted the opener in a Champions League group stage match against Barcelona last November. The headlines Serero made after that night far outnumbered the ones he is likely to feature in following the league victory, but his success was still celebrated in South Africa with some gusto.

Days before Ajax's league match against Heracles, some media houses were building up to the big day such as this report on a 24-hours news channel, eNCA, which pre-empted that South Africa could have a new "league champion".

News bills the day after the result was confirmed by proudly proclaiming Ajax as “"hulani Serero's Ajax Amsterdam," and some were quick to point out the financial benefits of Ajax's success. According to the Times' report, players who made more than 25 appearances for the club would receive bonuses of up to R4.3 million (US$430,000). Add that to Serero's salary of R6 million (US$600,000) and he is easily one of the wealthiest footballers from the country.

It's no wonder that they reported late last year that Serero was keen to stay at Ajax despite interest from Fulham. Then, Serero said was enjoying the experience he was gaining at Ajax and would look to go elsewhere in Europe after a year or two.

But that may not be up to him alone. South Africa website Kickoff called it "surprising," that Ajax are yet to negotiate a new deal with Serero even though his contract expires next season. They spoke to Serero's manager who was unfazed by the lack of communication and said he would discussion the situation with Ajax "after the celebrations".

Wherever Serero ends up, South Africans will wish him success and they will also hope he can inspire the national side to something similar. Serero should feature for Bafana Bafana routinely after patching up with coach Gordon Igesund late last year following a spat.

In September, Igesund kicked Serero out of the team camp to face Botswana because Serero was allegedly concerned about an injury and wanted to keep himself fit for Ajax. Igesund interpreted that as a lack of commitment. By November Igesund had recalled Serero for a match against Spain and confirmed he was not holding a grudge against the young man. Earlier this year, Igesund had so warmed to Serero, that he was "by far our best player," in South Africa's 5-0 loss to Brazil.

All indications are that Serero will play a big part in matches such as the 2015 African Nations' Cup qualifying, for which South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan said he expects them to qualify. South Africa have not qualified for a Nations' Cup since 2008, not counting the 2013 edition with continental champions Nigeria as they bid to play in next year's edition. There's little doubt they will need superstar performances. Luckily for them with Serero in their ranks, they have least one superstar player.