Roger has fallen. It was inevitable really after AjaxCT suffered yet another evening of misery last Tuesday. The defeat at the hands of Bidvest Wits left his PSL record post the MTN8 success reading just 30 points from 32 games and a miserly 3 wins from the last 15 home games. Any coach in the world would be feeling the heat after such a run. Still there is a perception among the media and pundits that he has been unlucky or somehow unfortunate with injuries. They would do well to put themselves in the place of fans that pay for season tickets and take the expense and time to get to the stadium to watch this 12 month long woeful run that has sunk the club into the basement of the PSL.
As painful as it was to endure on the evening we may come to thank Mogakolodi Ngele for the Wits winning goal that finally led to change. There had been moments during the Wits game where AjaxCT started to play some of the passing football the supporters have craved. Travis Graham and Rivaldo Coetzee were influencing the game in a way we had not yet seen this season. If it had finished 1-1 no doubt it could have been spun as a potential turning point in a desperate season. We would have continued on and nothing would have changed. The players knew it too. That is why they sunk to their knees at the final whistle and did not come across to greet the fans. They knew they had just hammered the final nail in their coach’s coffin.
What will be his legacy at AjaxCT? Although he leaves at a low point – as the majority of coaches do – the two cup finals in 2015 were an obvious highlight. We did get some fortune in the Nedbank Cup with a string of favourable home draws, but then took Sundowns to penalties on the day of the final in the biggest day out the club has had for years. It was an incredible achievement for RDS to repeat this in the MTN8 just a few months later, especially given the difficult fixtures that his side won away at Pirates and Wits. What is even more incredible is the fact that the trophy was won with a side that featured no less than 10 academy players in the starting line up. In this era of globalised football, where agents constantly agitate to move their players on and buying in new talent trumps development at most clubs, this is a remarkable achievement. What other club in South African football could have achieved this? Huge credit to RDS, the players and everyone involved at the club for the victory. It was the highpoint of the RDS era and earned the club the respect of the South African footballing community.
For many people Cecil Lolo was the man of the match in that final. Just weeks later he was gone, tragically killed in a car crash. Many looked to RDS as the figurehead of the team in the difficult times that followed. He led the team with dignity through this period as the club found themselves criticized for their response to the tragedy, regardless off all that they did for Lolo’s family and to maintain his legacy at the club. His response to journalist Neal Collins after the funeral just shows how frustrating it must have been for him to manage the team through the criticism they received at such a painful time.
The cup finals and his role in leading the players through the adversity that followed earnd RDS the right to a long reign in charge. Remember the club had worked its way through six coaches in the two seasons prior to his arrival. He brought a period of stability to the first team and the goodwill his cup exploits had generated saw him through a downturn in results. Gradually however his tendency for a cautious approach to games began to grate on supporters nerves. It became a trait of the side to take the lead in a game and then sit back and try to contain the opposition. His final game against Wits was the classic example of how this policy can backfire. But really we saw it far too often. Coupled with a tendency to rely too much on a long ball option at the expense of the running football the supporters wished for, his popularity in the stands began to disappear.
At times he has seemed to lack trust in certain types of attacking players. Toriq Losper is a good example of a player that he has continually used in bit part roles despite often looking our best option to support Nathan Paulse. In 14/15 when the club sold Keagan Dolly and then loaned him back from Sundowns we thought we had made a shrewd move in the transfer market. For some reason RDS did not share our opinion. The statistics tell the story. In that season Dolly was fit and available for 21 PSL games, but he was only started in 13 of them and even then was substituted 9 times. He started the other 9 games on the bench and was totally unused in 5 of them. He was only brought on for the very last minute of the final game of the season, probably as a gesture to say goodbye to the fans. Look at Dolly now and what he has achieved in the game, and you have to think what a waste this was.
The fact that so much of the media reaction has been so supportive shows how well RDS is regarded in the game, but sadly he had reached the end of the line with the support base. Crowds are small in the PSL, but even when the stands are so empty a poisonous atmosphere can transfer to the players on the pitch. The second half capitulation on Tuesday night was the final straw for a support base that had clearly turned on their coach as they left the ground. He did the noble and correct thing by stepping down and we should be grateful to him for not dragging this out any longer. I hope we can in turn all be honest enough to recognise what he achieved at a club with limited resources, certainly compared to those we beat in the MTN8 last year. We will always have those memories and for that we should thank RDS and look forward to the day our paths cross again.