Year after year, season after season, it’s the same old story: And it’s a tale of inconsistency and extreme highs and lows. There is no middle ground with this frustrating football club; they either have you rejoicing or crying.
Let’s just look at Ajax’s last two PSL campaigns, to illustrate the parlous situation. Last season, Roger de Sa steered the club to victory in the MTN8 competition. After that, it was again a long period of acute disappointment.
A winless run then resulted in De Sa quitting and former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper Stanley Menzo took over.
With a new face and a new voice at the helm, there was an initial burst of enthusiasm, with the club winning five of the last six games of last year. But, this year, they’ve reverted to type. As it is, Ajax are on an eight-game winless run and, just to rub in the hurt and humiliation, they are the only club that has failed to win a game in 2017.
All of these have Ajax in a precarious position indeed. Currently fourth-from-bottom in the PSL standings with 22 points, there are just four points between the Cape club and a relegation slot. Beneath them are Free State Stars, also on 22 points, Highlands Park on 20 and Baroka FC on 18.
So what is the problem? Let’s isolate a few issues.
There is certainly some kind of mental block afflicting the squad. They appear to hit a peak and then are unable to kick on. It’s as if they can only get to a certain level, but cannot take it one step further.
Ajax are in an “Arsenal syndrome”, in that there is a mental fragility to their play. Not only that, like Arsenal, they are able to dominate possession, but simply unable to kill off opponents.
Is this a coaching problem? Probably. But, because it has now happened to both De Sa and Menzo, isn’t it perhaps time to look elsewhere for the root of the problem? Are the fingers of blame not pointing at the players or even at the club’s signing policy? Are they bringing in footballers with fight and heart, or players just looking for a pay cheque?
It’s time for this Ajax squad to stand up and be counted. South African football tends to treat its footballers like untouchable gods and its coaches like disposable nappies. It’s because of this that players become complacent and simply go through the motions week in and week out.
The attitude is: If there’s a problem with results and performances, they’re Okay, because the coach will get the flak.
It’s an outlook that has to change, and most definitely so at Ajax.
For this season, especially, that hoary excuse that it’s a young team and they need experience, blah, blah, just doesn’t cut the mustard. Players like Rivaldo Coetzee, Tashreeq Morris and Travis Graham and others have had quite a few seasons in the PSL.
They are no longer young In fact, to counter that argument, in any case, let’s remind Ajax that their best and most consistent player this season has been 18-year-old Grant Margeman, a teenager just making his way at this level. What does that say about the rest of the experienced lot?