By Rodney Reiners
New Ajax Cape Town soccer coach Gordon Igesund is happy to go along with the "Ajax Amsterdam way", but is adamant he will not compromise his team in defensive situations.
Igesund, the winner of the Premier League championship title with Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates and Santos, has been both lauded and criticised for his approach to the sport... even though he is, by far, the most successful coach in the country.
Igesund places emphasis on discipline, meticulous planning, mental toughness and an old-fashioned, big, muscular striker.
At Rangers he had the tall George Koumantarakis up front to score goals, at Pirates he successfully used big forward Pollen Ndlanya and brought through lanky youngster Lesley Manyathela, while at Santos there was the burly Mauritian, Jean-Marc Ithier.
Now, at Ajax, Igesund has the hulking, powerful former Bafana Bafana striker, Bradley August, as his targetman.
The Durban-born coach also believes that the result is far more important than the performance. Scour through many Igesund interviews and you will more than likely see the following quote: "There's no room for performance in the results column. People only remember who won."
But what does that mean for the traditional Ajax Amsterdam 3-4-3 formation and the slow, slick and fluid passing game favoured by the Dutch?
"Nothing will change in attack," Igesund said on Monday at a rain-soaked training session at Ikamva, Ajax's headquarters in Parow.
"I would not have taken the Ajax job if I did not believe I could implement the Ajax style of play. That's a given. We will continue to go forward in the traditional Dutch manner, but in defence we will play 'Gordon Igesund's way'.
"The main problem at Ajax since their inception three years ago has been at the back... because they cannot play without the ball.
"My main focus will be to get Ajax to play when the opposition has the ball. I want them to get the ball back."
Igesund said even a club like European giants Ajax Amsterdam - the main shareholder of Ajax Cape Town - have to improvise, they cannot stick to the system for the entire 90 minutes.
In defence, Igesund believes, there is no system.
"Football is not played on a computer," he said. "It is played by human beings with different strengths and weaknesses, match conditions are different, match officials are fickle, and a coach has to suss out a situation and make decisions based on that.
"Going forward, we will continue to be the usual, entertaining side that Ajax are, but at the back I want to get the players tighter and organised. Last year Ajax conceded 42 goals in the league because they allowed the opposition far too much space to get behind the defence... it will not happen this year."
Igesund has now been training his new club for about a month.
What are his impressions of the squad?
"I was most disappointed with the fitness of the players," he said. "It's something very important in my preparation of soccer teams. My teams play at a high tempo and are effective when the opposition has the ball. I want my teams to fight and graft when they lose the ball... to do that, the entire team must be at the same level of fitness.
"So that aspect has been at the heart of my training sessions so far. The players have responded well and there is an enthusiasm here that augurs well for the season. I am positive that Ajax will do well."
Igesund did not hesitate to say that winning the league was again on the agenda. He said he would be happy with a top six finish, but was quick to add that, if he gets things right within the first half of the season, there was no reason why Ajax couldn't go all the way.
"Any team in the PSL can win the league," he said. "I think that point was proven last season. I'd like to say from the outset that Ajax can win the league this season, but first I have to drum a few points into the minds of the players.
"I have to impress on them the importance of mental strength during away games. I want them to roll up their sleeves when the chips are down and never give up, even when the game appears lost. I want to ensure that we lose with dignity and courage. In every game there has to be a winner and a loser, but my teams lose because the other side was better, not because we gave up and threw in the towel.
"And, most importantly, I want to get every single individual to believe they can win the league. Once everybody, as a unit, believes that fact... the sky is the limit and anything can happen."
On the playing front, Igesund said he was "missing one piece of the jigsaw". He needs a playmaker in the centre of midfielder, "someone like Thabo Mngomeni or a Doctor Khumalo from 10 years ago". In short, he wants a creative footballer who can make Ajax tick. Someone with confidence and charisma, capable of turning a game with one moment of individual brilliance.
And he is looking forward to a huge season from August.
"When I got Bradley to Santos last season after his Danish club went bankrupt, he wasn't at his peak yet. He hadn't played in a while. This time I have him from the start and am working him hard. The country hasn't seen the best from Bradley... it's time they do."
The other new string in Igesund's bow is Zimbabwean sweeper Thulani Ncube. The 25-year-old international, who has played 32 times for his country, impressed Igesund during a 10-day training stay and will arrive next week after Ajax chief executive John Comitis snapped up the player on a season loan with an option to buy from top Zimbabwean club, Highlanders.
Described as an elegant player who is comfortable in possession but brutal in the tackle, Ncube - along with the "Gordon Igesund way" - is destined to be the solution to Ajax's defensive woes.