Football is about results, nothing else. When the 90 minutes are over, the hard luck stories and missed opportunities count for nothing. The scoreboard is all that matters, as Ajax Cape Town coach Roger de Sa found to his detriment yesterday.
I will readily admit that I was sad to see De Sa quit as Ajax coach. I always believed he was the right fit for the Cape club’s philosophy of ‘no youth, no future’.
De Sa is a coach who has no hesitation exposing a talented youngster when he shows the necessary maturity and bottle for big-time football. Rivaldo Coetzee was just 17 when De Sa threw him in at the deep end of PSL football two years ago – today, the central defender from Kakamas in the Northern Cape is one of the country’s most exciting young talent. With so many other burgeoning Ajax teenagers waiting in the wings, De Sa would probably have loved to stick around, to watch the kids develop and grow. But, hey, when a team doesn’t win for seven games, somebody has to carry the can. And, in football, it’s coach!
After arriving at Ajax in 2014, on the back of inspiring Orlando Pirates to a place in the final of the CAF Champions League, De Sa steered the Capetonians to two Cup finals, the Nedbank Cup and the MTN8. They lost in the former, but sensationally won the latter by beating crowd favourites Kaizer Chiefs 2-1 in Port Elizabeth last season. It all looked so promising – and then, this season, despite De Sa considerably strengthening the squad with some high-profile, seasoned PSL campaigners, the results just haven’t gone his, or his team’s, way.
But, while De Sa, temporarily, heads for the unemployment queue, the problems that bedevil Ajax remain. And, whoever steps into the hot seat, Mich D’ Avray will be temporarily in charge, will have to find a way to deal with the team’s inability to win.
Are the Cape club’s problems, in fact, a coaching issue? Yes or No? Like so much of sport, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle – So let’s try to unpack some of areas of concern. For one, and this is the most glaring, Ajax just cannot seem to convert the numerous opportunities they create into goals. It has been the same old story all season – they have the possession, they make their way into the opposition penalty area, but lack the composure and decisiveness to hit the back of the net. Is that a coaching matter? Probably – but ask any other PSL or national coach about what ails the SA game, and they will tell you that it’s goals and reliable goal-scorers.
The second worry revolves around how the Ajax defence are constantly losing concentration, leading to the conceding of soft goals. Often, the Capetonians are playing well, they are dominating the opposition, but then there’s a sudden, inexplicable lack of focus at the back, an error, a goal is scored, and Ajax are on the back foot. This has probably been their main source of frustration – Is it a coaching issue? Not really. The coach can preach about it as much as he wants to, but, when the team takes the field, it’s the individual who has to deal with it in his own head. In short, the players need to ensure that they stay in the moment during game situations – it’s about the players’ own personal mental fortitude, application and commitment to the team and its success.
The third bone of contention is about the Ajax style. And, here, certainly, fingers can be pointed at De Sa. The young Cape side is always at its best when it plays the quick-passing possession game that has enthralled supporters over the years. In recent months, under De Sa, this has been missing, with Ajax giving the ball away far too easily than they are accustomed to.
These are but a few of the hurdles that have plagued Ajax this season. But, often, a football team responds positively to a new coach. The arrival of a new face, a new voice, a new training regime and a new routine galvanises the players.