With no actual local football to report on in January and the transfer window now wide open we can expect plenty of speculation (basically gossip) on our sports pages this month. For AjaxCT fans it started even before the New Year’s Eve parties had begun when the media started to speculate on a R6 million bid by Wits for Prince Nxumalo. No comments from either club or the player or his agent – just a rumour that has become a story. As annoying as this is, we should also note even the African champions are not immune to this sort of journalistic speculation, when almost immediately a story broke that Sundowns have received an overseas bid of R7.2 million bid for Keagan Dolly. While the media love to portray AjaxCT as a perennial “selling club”, this should remind us that every player at every club – even the mighty Sundowns – has their price.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these two stories is that in both cases a fee has been revealed. Of course neither player may eventually be sold, and even if they are the fee may eventually differ substantially from the figures quoted in the press. However, we do now know the starting bids that each club received for both players and it is interesting to see how highly valued Prince is compared to Dolly. Most AjaxCT fans would be disappointed to lose Prince right now. After a difficult start to the season, where injury has affected him again, he has recently come good under the new coach and we have seen glimpses of the deadly finishing he displayed last year. We should be looking for him to push on and become a regular goalscorer in the next half of the season. However, if both transfers went through as reported it could be said that AjaxCT had produced a good piece of business. Prince has only one good season under his belt, has persistent health problems and a long injury record, and unlike Dolly is not an established international. If he was sold for just less than Sundowns have been offered for Dolly it could be argued to be represent fantastic business for the club. AjaxCT excel at this – remember they picked up both Dolly and Prince when they were free agents and have created huge value out of both players.
It is probably a non-story created to fill the gaps on the sports pages during the holidays. The likely outcome is that Prince will stay at Ajax for now (as Ari subsequently confirmed) and Dolly will eventually be sold for a much higher figure, if his messy contract issues are ever resolved. As supporters, it is an encouraging trend for us to be given possible transfer figure, as it enables us to evaluate the sale of players and judge whether the club is making good or bad decisions. As hard as it is to take when good players are sold we can see the benefits of doing so when the funds are ploughed back into development and exciting prospects such as Grant Margeman arise. AjaxCT are constantly accused of being a selling club, but also of not being a buying club. You do not need to be a buying club if you can constantly develop quality. You can pay to buy a player like Margeman or pay to develop them. Most clubs choose to pay to buy players, whereas AjaxCT choose to pay to develop much of their squad.Scouting still occurs of course but the clubs scouts are able to identify talent that is available for free and their coaches are able to develop these players into players that everyone wants. Imagine how strong South African football could be if all of our clubs could do this.
The key to success in such a system is knowing when to sell players on and how long to keep them to ensure continuity. It is always a difficult balancing act and often requires firm leadership. This is one of the reasons we fell out with the previous coach Roger de Sa, as he constantly referred to AjaxCT as a development club that was always selling its best players. He recently told Kick Off magazine that: “my time at Ajax was all about cutting costs, getting rid of the heavyweight players and earners, making the books balance, putting money in the bank and selling players.” It is sad to see him criticise his former employers after he spent so long telling the world that we had players to sell, effectively sending out a “come and get my players” message to the rest of the PSL. What a contrast to chairman Ari Efstathiou who – as well as responding positively to the Prince speculation – has publically insisted that Rivaldo Coetzee will not be joining Mamelodi Sundowns or any other PSL club. He is likely to be severely tested on this bold claim, but our owner seems to have a firm idea of when and where to sell our players and to keep them for as long as possible when they are contributing to the team. A good example of this is the fact that two of the players constantly rumoured to be moving during the RDS era – Travis Graham and Bantu Mzwakali – have now played 100 games for the club and signed a new long term contract, respectively.
Time will tell, but I suspect we are going to see at least the same quality come in that goes out during this transfer window. It is likely that senior players will not be sold, but if they are the price will be right for the club and replacements will be in position. Maybe the journalists (and former coaches) that keep writing the tired old “selling club” stories may have to find a new narrative for 2017.