Thulani Serero set to prove his point in Dutch Super Cup
Thulani Serero has been itching to prove a point for months.
He has the perfect forum to do just that on Sunday when the Dutch season begins with the Johan Cruiff Schaal, the Dutch Super Cup that pits the South African midfielder's new club Vitesse Arnhem against champions Feyenoord.
Should the 27-year-old from Soweto play, as expected, it will mark his first outing in a senior game in Holland for over a year and begin the process of re-establishing his career after a cruel 12 months in which he was harshly treated and humiliated by his previous employer.
Serero had been at Ajax since 2011, helping the club to three successive league titles, scoring against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League and offering a decent return on the paltry 1,5-million Euro investment the Dutch giants had made in him.
However, after Frank de Boer left the Ajax coaching job at the end of the 2015-16 season, Serero's own future turned bleak.
New coach Peter Bosz, who has since moved to Borussia Dortmund after just one season, had no place for Serero in his plans. With a year left on his contract, a move to Cyprus was proposed by the Ajax management, according to Serero just days before the transfer deadline.
He felt the proposal was uncomfortably vague and hurried, and did not hesitate to say "no".
So Serero was banished to the reserves, his first-team privileges stripped, like a parking place side the Ajax complex 'De Toekomst' and the right to use the 'players' home' for his meals.
Instead they had to be taken outside with the reserves and juniors.
"I'm a strong person and I don't allow myself to be pressurised," he said earlier this year when pouring his heart out about the frustrating humiliation to the Dutch paper De Telegraaf.
Ajax made him train with the reserves, but only picked him for a handful of matches for the second side, who compete in the Dutch second division, when they had injury problems.
"I could have gone home and sat and cried but I chose for the other option: holding my head up high and keeping a positive attitude," he added. "That was my goal for the season, plus playing well for the national team.
"I'm a strong person and I don't allow myself to be pressurised. I can look at myself in the mirror because I have always been good to everyone at Ajax and always gave my best. The worst for me was not being allowed to play. It has pained me."
The nightmare is now over.
Vitesse have picked him up on a three-year deal, and Serero can set about picking up the pieces of his career, proving Ajax wrong and re-establishing himself. He is at an age where there is plenty still to come from him, not least an expected recall to the South Africa national team ahead of their two World Cup qualifiers next month.
Serero has been one of the rare exports from South Africa's Premier Soccer League over the last decade to a top club in Europe.
For all of its sophistication, television income and profile on the African continent, the PSL has delivered far too few players to the European market.
Serero had been something of a lone standard bearer.
There is a fervent hope in his home country he will be able to successfully bounce back and offer inspiration to those young South Africans who still dream of cracking the overseas market.