The Manchester United experience has infused Ajax Cape Town with confidence ahead of the new Premier Soccer League (PSL) season.
As Ajax prepare to take on SuperSport United in their opening fixture at the Cape Town Stadium tomorrow night (8pm), the impressive display against English giants Man United still reverberates around the corridors at the Cape club.
Last month, Sir Alex Ferguson’s celebrated Red Devils came to the Mother City for a pre-season friendly and they were surprised by the spirit and tenacity of the youthful Ajax side. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and, afterwards, Ferguson, one of the world’s most successful managers, had high praise for the Capetonians: “Ajax’s tactics were good, they pressed the ball and, when they won possession, they counter-attacked well and gave us a lot of worrying moments. They nearly beat us. Ajax played with a lot of speed, commitment and organisation.”
With this in mind, and the positive impression Ajax had on the watching Cape public, the club’s chief executive George Comitis made no secret of their intentions this season. “I think against Man United last month, we saw a glimpse of what this Ajax team can do,” said Comitis. “Now, though, the challenge is to continue to do so more consistently.
“It’s a season we are really looking forward to and, obviously, we want to improve on last season’s disappointing ninth-placed finish.
“In fact, we are using the disappointment of last season as motivation for the new campaign. We know exactly how we felt at the end of last season, and the players, the coaches and management want to ensure that we don’t feel that way again.”
Ajax have been open and honest about their failings last season. They believe that, despite all the skill and quality of their youth academy products, the squad needs to have leadership and experience. In this way, in times of crises on the field, there are cool heads who can calm things down and ensure that no panic sets in.
For this purpose, Ajax have gone the Dutch route and brought in 29-year-old Koen van de Laak, who played many years for Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie, and former Bafana Bafana striker Bradley Grobler.
Also set to join is Nigerian central defender James Okwuosa, though the deal has yet to be finalised.
Tomorrow: Orlando Pirates v Golden Arrows; Ajax Cape Town v SuperSport United (Cape Town Stadium, 8pm)
Saturday: Black Leopards v Bloemfontein Celtic; Free State Stars v Bidvest Wits; AmaZulu v Kaizer Chiefs; Mamelodi Sundowns v Chippa United (Atteridgeville, 8.15pm)
Sunday: University of Pretoria v Maritzburg United; Platinum Stars v Moroka Swallows – Cape Argus