Ajax look to make even bigger strides in youth football
The Lambda Institute is more than just a football academy - it is a football school. The players who are taken in are housed, fed, educated and trained on the premises. The five attributes which make up the basis of the school’s programme are talent, education, physicality, nutrition and mental preparedness. With this foundation, players have a better chance of making the grade in the tough world of European football.
Players between the ages of 14-18 undergo rigorous selection criteria before being accepted. It can currently take 30 kids.
The institute was opened by PSL chairman Irvin Khoza and former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van de Sar, who is now the chief executive of Ajax Amsterdam.
“There is a gap in our development as a football country,” said Khoza. “And that is why what Ajax are doing is so remarkable. This is a good day for football in South Africa, this is a good day for the development of young people. Because the greatest respect you can show to a child is to see him.
“This institute will cater for the complete person in developing players. It creates a home-from-home environment and emphasises the importance of education. And that is why nothing was going to stop me from coming to open this facility, not even (today’s) Soweto derby in Durban. I have great admiration and support for Ari (Efstathiou, Ajax chief executive), and I wish them all of the best going forward.”
Khoza’s message to the players in the institute was: “Your success depends on you. Talent alone does not cut it - it depends on your attitude. Work ethic is a learned behaviour.”
Van de Sar echoed Khoza’s words.
“I’m proud to be here and this is a great day to celebrate this institute,” said the former goalkeeper. “Ajax Amsterdam have always been one of the leading clubs in Europe when it comes to developing players. And, because of that, I can say that talent is not enough. I have seen many players with talent not make it. The players who go on to be successful are the ones who work hard. So it’s my pleasure to be part of the official opening of this facility - it’s a great step forward for Ajax Cape Town, for football in South Africa, and for Ajax Amsterdam.”
Lambda is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet, symbolising the 11 players on a football field. Efstathiou sketched the background which led to the establishment of the institute.
“When Ajax was launched as a club in January 1999, we wanted to create an institution to replicate the famous youth academy of Ajax Amsterdam,” said Efstathiou. “We believe we have been successful - we have been in existence for 20 years and, in that time, 800 kids have gone through the doors of the academy, most of them from disadvantaged backgrounds, from crime and drug-related neighbourhoods. At Ajax, we have provided an opportunity for players to benefit not only their own lives but the lives of their families too. Of those 800, 120 went on to play in the PSL, 24 represented Bafana Bafana, 17 went on to a career in Europe and 75 played for the country’s junior national teams. We have been the pioneers in youth development in South Africa.
“But the thing about success is that you will always be copied, which is why there are so many youth academies across the country now. Because of this, we wanted to do something better, we wanted to do things differently. We wanted to find a way to get our kids to play at international level, not just in South Africa. We asked ourselves: if a kid has got talent, how do we get him to aim even higher, to be even better? It’s with this in mind that the Ajax Lambda Institute was first thought about, and then put into operation.”@Reinerss11