Imagine a future where the production line of footballing talent coming out of the AjaxCT academy dries up. Instead of producing quality the club has to rely on its scouting system to track down quality, hope they can afford it, make a deal and get the player on board before somebody else jumps in with a bigger and better offer. It is not a world that I am confident that AjaxCT would survive in for long. Just like in Amsterdam, here in Cape Town everything is geared up to keep the squad turning over with fresh new talent and the bank account topped up by selling some of the players on when the time is right. It works in Amsterdam where Ajax recently played their 1650th consecutive game with at least one academy player in the starting line-up. A run that goes back to September, 1982 and surely one of the most impressive football statistics of the season.
Last week’s disappointment in the Bayhill Premier Cup has left many fans wondering if AjaxCT may never get the chance to pull off the African version of this statistic. Nobody put it more passionately than Alfred Johnson whose fans view was widely shared by AjaxCT. The resources at hand including everything from overseas coaches, excellent facilities, technical staff, and stores full of nutritional supplements meant nothing as the side crashed out far too early. It is not a tournament that has brought much joy in recent years – defeat in the group stages two years ago for example – but losing to a local side from Langa this time around was particularly tough to take. Just a short term dip or is the youth development structure at the club starting to decline?
Some of our local football writers believe that young footballers coming through the ranks these days do not understand the history and the culture of the clubs they are at, and do not conduct themselves in the correct and proper manner. Maybe, but that does not seem to be a problem in Pretoria after Supersport United took the title again, with youngsters that got many in the crowd taking down names to watch for the future. Even our neighbours from Mpumalanga managed to get to the semi-finals in their first attempt.
But, do not panic because the problems have been noticed. Former coach Foppe de Haan and ex- goalkeeper Hans Vonk are returning to Cape Town to take charge of the youth structures. Surely the most exciting news the club has announced all season long, at least in terms of its off field structure. It seems that Hans Vonk will be the main man on the ground, with de Haan jetting in from time to time and providing an oversight. It does sound like a good arrangement. Many fans initially hoped that this would be the start of new era that would eventually see Foppe back in charge of the first team. We should remember he is 73 years old, and with his family in The Netherlands his original personal reasons for leaving still remain. In any case this would not be fair on Stanley Menzo who has changed the way the team is approaching games and deserves a longer spell to let his ideas develop. We have seen in the huge contrast in the last two games that he is capable of pulling off a narrow victory with a cautious approach under desperate circumstances and then quickly revert to the attacking flair we saw before Christmas when the opportunity is there.
In the long running debate over whether the team is better off with local or overseas coaches it seems the pendulum is swinging back to The Netherlands. It has to be a good thing to be bringing in fresh ideas from Europe, still the heartland of world football, rather than continually recycling coaches from the local scene that fail and move on, fail and move on, fail and move on. We may see better discipline and new ideas on the training field. We may see results improve on the field as a consequence and a winning mentality restored in the youngsters. The youth set up is far from broken despite last week’s disappointment. This is clear from the emergence of the likes of Grant Margeman and Yagan Sasman who have emerged in the first team this season. Still they keep coming. It should not go unnoticed that five Ajax Cape Town players have been included in the latest South African National U20 squad that will shortly tour Europe.
Knockout football produces upsets and the last weekend’s disappointment does not necessarily mean that standards are slipping. With the recent coaching developments we can expect a further strengthening of standards, with better results next Easter and importantly a continuation of the youth production line into the first team. Still a long way to go to match that 1650 number from our friends in Amsterdam, but we are getting there.