SA footballer trapped in European nightmare

Linda Ximba

When he was invited to trials in Georgia, junior AmaZulu FC player Thulani Cele thought he had got his big break. But his dream was soon shattered when he realised he had been sold false promises.

Earlier this year, Cele was told by his agent – a man known only as Baggio – that he had organised trials for him in Georgia.

They met while Cele was on a Nedbank-sponsored #KeYona Team Search competition.

But according to Cele’s devastated family, the trials at Gagra FC were a scam. The 22-year-old was stranded and later demoted.

“He left on 4 May for trials in Georgia. On 3 June he called to say he’s coming back but he didn’t. We got a call from someone in Georgia to say he’s been arrested. We haven’t heard from him since,” his father, Bongani Cele, told SAFM SportsOn.

Cele senior said they found it strange that his son had to fork out money for air tickets and accommodation.

“Upon arriving there he was told that the hotel had not been paid for. What was also worse was that the team he was told had invited him was away from the country for pre-season or something. Later he was told all sorts of stories which frustrated and confused him even more.

“As a family we have tried everything. We called the South African government, they told us there’s no embassy in Georgia. Things are tense in our house, we can’t even sleep because we don’t know where our child is.”

To make matters worse, he confirmed that another South African who had joined his son in Georgia was able to return.

“What we also don’t understand as the family is that there was another South African player there with Thulani, his name is Masego. This player was staying with Thulani and was able to come back home from Georgia but not Thulani.”

Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela said on Tuesday they had only just become aware of the incident.

“The matter was only brought to us today and we do not have an embassy in Georgia, so we would have to enlist help from the embassy in Poland to investigate the circumstances around the arrest of the player,” the spokesperson explained.

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