It sometimes feels as if the season does not really begin until the first day of September when the dreaded ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ has passed. After initially being pushed for by the EPL in the 1990’s, the transfer window was eventually introduced worldwide by FIFA for the 2002-2003 season. The aim of the window was to improve the stability of individual teams and prevent agents from encouraging players to move clubs at crucial moments in the season. It has largely been seen as a huge success, although it always feels odd that the window remains open for those first few weeks of a new season.
In South Africa we have played just one round of fixtures, but some leagues around the world are several games into their new seasons. On the last day of August key players can be lost, with little or no time left to replace them. The last minute ‘fire sale’ of players and subsequent panic buying of replacements can be a nightmare for clubs that are traditionally considered selling clubs. While players are moved on at Ajax Cape Town when satisfactory bids are received, the business is at least usually done in good time for replacements to be found. Mobara, Norodien and Jaakkola all moved on in good time and RDS was even actively bringing in new players with a few games of last season still to play. Contrast that with the pain of our new rivals at Cape Town City, who accepted a deadline day offer for young talent Aubrey Modiba from Supersport Utd and then ran out of time when trying to sign Rheece Evans as a replacement. Imagine the anger if AjaxCT had done the same with Rivaldo Coetzee on deadline day.
In fact AjaxCT did something even more surprising by bringing in two new experienced players. Mark Mayambela was first – and announced to the world via a live facebook stream. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed that Lebohang ‘Cheeseboy’ Mokoena would also be joining. Both on two year deals. Both experienced players. Both in their prime age as a footballer. Both well known names in South African football. It all seemed totally out of character with the club’s previous development and transfer policy, but it was extremely welcome. Supporters had known that both players had been training with AjaxCT for some time, but we had seen this happen before. Remember when Benni McCarthy returned to South African football and trained at Ajax before joining Pirates? Reluctantly I suppose we have to thank John Comitis for raising the stakes in the local football scene. If Cape Town City FC were not competing for space in the city you have to think that AjaxCT would have gone into the season with the squad exactly as it was for the first game at Baroka.
Now we have a squad that looks very competitive on paper. Relegation fears have turned into genuine optimism for a top 8 finish. Maybe another good season in the cups. But, let’s just take stock and consider what the new men can offer. As a teenager Mokoena made a huge impact at Orlando Pirates, where he became feared for his pace and dribbling skills, but since moving to Mamelodi Sundowns his career has stalled. Injury and competition have kept him out of first team football, with only around 60 games in six years and only 47 minutes of competitive football in the last PSL campaign. It is probably asking too much for him to make a full contribution this season.
At 28, Mayambela should also be in the prime of his career. After exciting early spells at Bloemfontein Celtic and Orlando Pirates his career is also on something of a downward trajectory. Since 2013 he has moved around on a series of short term deals, including a spell at Mpumalanga Black Aces where he infamously did not play a single game after allegedly arriving for training under the influence of alcohol. Clearly he has a lot left to prove. This is one for the motivational skills of RDS to solve.
Despite these concerns it has left us with a feeling of expectation rather than hope as the season picks up again this week. With Prince training again and Toriq Losper resolving his contract dispute it feels like a good time to welcome Orlando Pirates to Cape Town. For a club that is perennially dismissed as a ‘selling club’ it feels like AjaxCT have just had one of the best transfer windows in recent memory.