Ajax’s young crop will bloom next season, says world-wise Westerveld
Sander Westerveld admits it has been a difficult and frustrating debut season in South African football.
But, far from being despondent, the disappointment has only intensified the resolve of Ajax Cape Town’s 37 year old Dutch goalkeeper.
In fact, despite the Cape side’s discouraging inconsistency this campaign, Westerveld has seen enough to be convinced the club has the capability to put together a championship challenge next season.
Much-travelled and with a wealth of experience and knowledge, Westerveld ends his first taste of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) when Ajax take on Black Leopards in Polokwane on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm).
The Dutchman has played football at FC Twente, Vitesse and Sparta Rotterdam (Holland), Liverpool, Portsmouth and Everton (England), Real Sociedad, Mallorca and Almería (Spain) and Monza (Italy).
Now he is in South Africa – and he is adamant he will be continuing next season.
“I have not yet achieved here what I want to,” said Westerveld. “I have one more year on my contract with Ajax, with an option to renew for another year. This season has been tough, with many ups and downs... But I’m looking forward to next season.
“When I first arrived, I was told that Ajax were in a rebuilding phase. But by December, we were near the top of the log and it looked like we could possibly mount a title challenge. But then it fell apart. We had a bad run and that was rather disappointing as we slipped down the table.
“But this is always the case when a club has young and inexperienced players. Inconsistency will be part of the way they play.
“These players will be much better next season. They will have learnt from this campaign and will be able to put that experience into practice next season.”
From a personal point of view, Westerveld was reasonably happy with his own contribution and was hoping to make even more of an impact.
“I don’t think we were able to build a reliable defence because we were never able to play the same defence on a regular basis. The team was always hit by injuries and suspensions, and that had an effect on the organisation of the defence. As such, I think we conceded far too many goals we shouldn’t have.”
The former Liverpool goalkeeper believes that this was probably the biggest downfall to the team this season.
“There were games we were good and there were games we were bad,” he said. “But, overall, in most the games we dropped points, we gave goals away through silly errors and a loss of concentration.
“It’s something we will need to improve on if we want to be among the best teams in the PSL.”
With Westerveld about to complete his first season of football in this country, what are his thoughts on the sport as it is played here?
“I must say I am very positive about my experiences here,” he said.
“The level is good, and especially the top teams play a high standard of football.
“Obviously it cannot be compared to England or Spain, but at least there is a desire to try to play football.
“Moroka Swallows, I have to say, have done very well. When I came here, they weren’t a team that people regularly spoke of, but they have been one of the most consistent teams this season.
“It’s difficult for me to talk about what still has to be done to improve the game in South Africa. I don’t know all that much about the inner working of the sport here and at other clubs.
“But, at Ajax, things are run very professionally, The youth and the infrastructure are similar to clubs in Europe.
“But the one thing I can say is that football in South Africa is improving, and it can only get better.”
As for next season, Westerveld has definite ideas about what needs to happen to take Ajax to the next level.
“I think the coach (Maarten Stekelenburg) has already spoken about it,” he added.
“We need to to bring more quality to the squad, I would say at least one player in every department on the field. The current squad is good, but it needs to be more competitive and consistent and, for that, you need depth.
“I would say, especially in attack, we need to get a reliable goalscorer.”