CAPE TOWN - Mich d’Avray is still fondly known in the Mother City for his remarkable success in coaching Cape Town Spurs to the league and cup double in 1995. He’s a man who loves a challenge - and, in his new role as Head of Football at Ajax Cape Town, he is certainly in for a real challenge.
D’Avray returned to the Mother City after nearly 20 years away to join Ajax as an assistant-coach last year. An astute, deep thinker of the game, the 55-year-old was elevated to his new, more prominent position two months ago. Already, he is hard at work, determined to ensure that Ajax continue to be among the leading football clubs in the country.
So this Head of Football, what does it entail?
“Essentially, I take over the football department at Ajax, from bottom to top,” said D’Avray. “To use a corporate analogy, you could probably say I am the CEO in charge of everything that involves football at the club. There are, obviously, structures already in place and I will oversee all those football aspects. For example, now that Hans Vonk is in as Head of Youth that is an area where we need to get back to where we were before.
“My 12 months as an assistant-coach gave me the opportunity to have a look at the club’s structures and how it operates. Ajax have a good product, but there is still room to improve in every department. I think, if anything, the club has been guilty of being too relaxed, and resting on its laurels. In football, things are always changing and, as a club, you have to keep up. If you don’t keep your finger on the pulse, you could get caught out. I see my new role as making sure that Ajax continue to improve and grow as a club.”
Born in Johannesburg, it was at England’s Ipswich Town that D’Avray flourished as a striker in the 1980s. He would go on to play for Leicester City and NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands before hanging up his boots and returning home.
His first coaching stint was at Moroka Swallows, but it was during a spell at Spurs in the nineties that D’Avray inked himself into Cape football folklore with the league and cup double, providing a platform for players like Shaun Bartlett, Andre Arendse and David Nyathi to imprint themselves in the national consciousness.
D’Avray would later leave South Africa for Australia, where he continued his coaching success during a fantastic six-year spell at Perth Glory. Now, in his new role at Ajax, just as he did at Spurs all those years ago, he wants to make just as big a contribution to the continued advancement of football in the Cape.
“Right now, there are two things at the top of my priority list,” said D’Avray. “One, because of the open transfer window, I want to make sure that we bring in players that can be a benefit to the team. So, once the season gets under way, the coaching staff can have a squad that is able to be competitive in the PSL. And, two, as mentioned already, I want to get the academy up and running smoothly again. With Hans (Vonk) in charge, it should only be a matter of time.”
Stanley Menzo was the previous Head of Youth, but when he took over as PSL head coach, there was a bit of a vacuum. D’Avray admits that the club was lacking a bit in this regard with the absence of Menzo, but Vonk’s return to the club would have it up and running effectively again - very soon.
“This (Ajax) is a big organisation,” he said. “I first saw it when I arrived as assistant-coach last season. You aren’t coming into a club where one or two teams matter - it is, in fact, a massive set-up, especially when taking into consideration the youth academy and all the other structures. There is a lot going on at the club on a daily basis. For me, in my new job here, the most important aspect is that things need tightening up, and that is my challenge.”
In reflecting on the Spurs success in 1995, and working in the PSL right now, are there any differences?
“It’s not really a debate I want to get involved in,” said D’Avray. “It’s like comparing Maradona and Messi in different eras, and asking who’s better? What I can say is that the game has become more professional since 1995. There are aspects like sports science and sports nutrition that are extremely important now. For example, back in 1995, when Spurs celebrated a win with a crate of beer in the dressing-room, there was nothing wrong with it. That doesn’t happen today
“Of course, there’s also sponsorship and the big television deal. It means that football nowadays is big money, it’s a big business, and that, of course, brings extra pressure on the players, and extra stress on coaches and club owners.”