A remarkable statistic circulated in the run up to our mid-week fixture with bottom of the log Platinum Stars. Coach Roger de Sa had apparently only won 3 of his previous 35 games in all competitions. Inevitably that became 4 from 36 as AjaxCT once again shot blanks on the road. Many of us had actually sat through a large proportion of those 35 games during the time RDS was coach in Cape Town. As his football became increasingly negative and unpleasant to watch the fans started to call for something better. When Stanley Menzo arrived it looked for a while like the fans had their prayers answered.
Now almost exactly one year later we find ourselves back where we were a year ago. Relegation threatened and playing safety-first football, but with what is increasingly looking like a much weaker squad. Our problems are piling up and many fans felt after Wednesday’s disappointment that it was the coach that should be taking the blame.
Stanley Menzo’s record stands at 11 wins and 12 losses in 32 games, with a points total of 42. It is a very average record – enough to keep the club in the PSL, not enough to qualify for the MTN8, and nowhere near enough to be serious challengers. However, it is his recent form of just 2 wins in 11 games that is most concerning. We are currently on a serious downward trajectory with a weak squad, best defender sold, a captain that is frozen out and the best academy youngsters sent straight to Amsterdam. This run also includes the dreadful performance in the final game of last season, in which he managed to lose to then lowly Baroka at home and miss out on the MTN8. We have seen some poor performances in recent years, but that passionless display was probably the worst given that there was a modest prize to play for. It was particularly frustrating when you consider that so much of the football his team had played up to that point was exciting and positive. In the first few months of his tenure the team twice scored three goals away from home (Platinum Stars and Bloemfontein Celtic). Sure there were also low points. A thrashing at Wits and losing to a team of amatuers in the Nedbank Cup. Mostly his football was refreshing and entertaining, and most of us were expecting him to continue on with the same formula this season.
It is not happening and like RDS before him, as results get worse he is reverting to more cautious football. For many fans the final straw was the selection of six defenders in the starting line-up for the Cape Derby. For those that stuck with him the loss to the side on bottom of the log this week really has been the final straw. In his previous coaching position at Lierse in Belgium he also started his second season poorly and was eventually sacked after just six games. However, he had previously had some success in his native Holland with both FC Volendam and Cambuur Leeuwarden. His coaching record, much like his overall record at AjaxCT, is a mixed bag of highs and lows.
As the clamour for change intensifies among the fans it is hard not to feel slightly sorry for Menzo. He comes across as a decent and honest guy. He loses with grace and wins with dignity. He keeps a calm head when under pressure and it is unlikely that we will see him lose his mind on the touchline in the way we have seen some of the higher profile coaches do this season. I am sure there is still an attacking coach in there somewhere, but hampered by the poor quality of the squad and the inconsistent form of men he relied on last year, he has reverted to defence. The fans do not like his refusal to drop some of the players who are most out of form, but you have to wonder if this is a sign that he is not confident of the depth of his squad. Even so, we are not going to defend our way out of trouble so what harm is there in showing a bit more positivity and giving the likes of George and Margeman a more extended run in the side? The holding back of players like Sedwyn George is the one criticism that the few remaining Menzo supporters are finding hard to defend. Even opposition fans are praising his brief appearances in the team, and we have only 7 goals in 9 games.
It does seem like the side were unlucky against Platinum Stars this week. Twice they hit the woodwork and reports suggest there was little between the sides. But we are left wondering what could have been if we had started with the positivity we finished with, when Menzo threw on forwards to chase the game. Instead, the fans are turning and once that happens it is very difficult for the coach to get them back onside. Although the league position is extremely worrying it is once again the type of football that is being played that is causing most dissatisfaction. As fans we can only wonder how much of a say Menzo has had in the comings and goings of players over recent months. Did he really want to sign an injured midfielder to replace another midfielder that is still here, but being frozen out of the club? Is he playing defenders in midfield out of desperation or as a protest? It is the Ajax way to train players to be flexible and adapt to new positions. Maybe he believes this is possible and maybe it is. But at the moment his side looks like an experiment and we are paying good money to sit through the trials. We want to know when the attacking football starts.