CAPE TOWN - So what’s eating Ajax Cape Town? It’s a question occupying the thoughts of many a Cape football follower - because, make no mistake, the continued presence of the Parow-based club in the PSL is essential to the health and progress of the sport in the Mother City.
After making a massive impact on the local football scene since its inception in 1999, Ajax have over the last few years, to be brutally honest, and in the words of Winston Churchill, become “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. How is it that a club with so much potential continues to spectacularly and hopelessly under-achieve? They’ve been plagued by inconsistency, constantly wallowing towards the basement of the league standings and, overall, there’s just the general feeling that, with all the resources at Ajax’s disposal, they should be doing far, far better. A mystery, indeed.
It reminded me of a riddle I came across during my university days when studying Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. In the tragic play by the famous Greek writer, the Sphinx puts the following question to Oedipus: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?” The answer, of course, is mankind. (Crawling on four legs as an infant, walking on two legs as an adult, and then shuffling along with a cane as an elderly person).
It’s the perfect metaphor for Ajax. Eighteen years ago, launched as a satellite club of Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, they first baby-stepped their way into the PSL; they rapidly made progress and become one of the most admired clubs in South Africa; now, sadly, years of complacency have taken its toll, and the club is limping along like a doddery old man.
So what is at the root of it all? And, even more significantly, how does this once rabidly-ambitious club return itself to a status among the bigger, more important teams in the PSL?
They always say that, when you have a problem, and you are desperate for a solution, the best way to isolate the issues is to ask “why”, and to then answer the questions sincerely and truthfully. No wavering, no obfuscation, no passing the buck; just good, old-fashioned honesty. So here are a few whys for Ajax:
Why is it that a club with such fantastic facilities and limitless player talent continue to struggle? Why, with all the Dutch knowledge and information at its beck and call, can Ajax still not elevate itself to a loftier perch in the league? If the Ajax youth academy is among the best on the continent, why are these emerging young players not making the desired transition when getting to the PSL team?
Why is the Ajax squad (in recent years) so bereft of courage and leadership? Why are the players so mentally fragile? Why has the team not been able to eradicate the countless technical and tactical errors, which lead to the conceding of so many silly goals, from their game? Why can this team of professional footballers not find a way to win games on the road, away from the comfort of home?
Why is it that so many former Ajax players are critical of the state and direction of the club? In fact, in speaking with some current players and staff off the record, there seems to be a general feeling of unease at the club. Why is that so? Regularly, too, players are at loggerheads with the club - former captain Travis Graham is the most recent, but there have been others before him. Why? Can solutions not be found?
The ugly boardroom spat that hindered the progress of Ajax a few years ago is long in the past. Why has the club still not been placed on a steadier footing, to make it capable of being among the upper echelon of SA clubs, as it rightfully should be?
What is at the core of it all? Is it the management? Is it the coaching? Or is it the players? Or is it just a combination of the three? Why, why, why? In fact, why is it that I have to write a column such as this?
As a writer, I’m not close enough to the club, nor am I privy to the deeper workings of the operation, to have the answers to all of the questions. Also, I’m just not emotionally invested enough in their plight to even try to offer solutions. But, as someone who has a deep love and passion for Cape football, I can see the danger signs - and all I can do is to humbly warn everybody involved at the club of the tightrope they are walking. For football in the Mother City, losing Ajax from the PSL would be far greater, and much worse, than any Greek tragedy.
In the current state of SA and society, it is, of course, customary to shoot the messenger. Hopefully, this column will land on receptive ears, and not trigger a dismissive, hostile response.
But, as a closer, I was rather intrigued by former Ajax coach Roger de Sa’s reaction after his current club, Platinum Stars, defeated Ajax in Rustenburg last week. The next day, after the victory, he posted a tweet that read: “There are some things that money cannot buy - like manners, morals, intelligence and class.” What I’d like to know is whether there was a veiled message in there for his former club?