CAPE TOWN - There’s a steely determination about Ajax Cape Town as they prepare for what should be an explosive derby against Cape Town City at Cape Town Stadium tomorrow afternoon (3pm kickoff).
All the bluster and bravado has come from the noisy neighbours in Green Point, while Ajax have been happy to slip underneath the radar, content with the tag of underdogs. Because, and it’s been this way for decades, what has gone before means nothing in the Cape derby.
City have captured the imagination of the football public since their inception in June last year, they have the legendary Benni McCarthy as coach, and they have the better form going into tomorrow’s match. Ajax have been struggling to keep their heads above water over the last two seasons, they lost both derby games in the last campaign, and they’ve started slowly again this time around.
But none of it matters on match day - all that counts is hunger and commitment: How badly do the teams want to win? How determined are they to emerge as the football kings of the Cape?
Ajax skipper Mosa Lebusa is certainly not too concerned about last season’s losses to the neighbours. In football, as in life, the wheel turns; things don’t stay the same forever.
“City had a great season last time, but we’ve got new players now and I know it will be different,” said the 24-year-old left-back who was handed the captaincy this season. “The city will be divided into two colours, so it’s important to make sure that we win.
“It will be an interesting game and I expect that both teams will go at each other. I think we are on the right track now. We have shown improvement in our last two games and we can only get better as the season progresses. Because we have a few new players in the squad, it has taken a while for things to gel.
"But I think we are starting to understand each other now, we are getting to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the players are on the same wavelength. For the derby, I am sure the sharpness and determination will be there, and we will be looking to continue the improvement we have shown in recent games.”
Lebusa has had to quickly adjust to being handed the captain’s armband. Midfielder Travis Graham has led the team the last few seasons, but he is currently out in the cold. In the final year of his contract, Graham is trying to engineer a move away from the club and is currently not training with the PSL squad. In his absence, the team needed a new leader and head coach Stanley Menzo opted for Lebusa, a reliable, ultra-consistent footballer who never lets the side down.
“I’m slowly getting used to being captain,” said Lebusa, who came through the Ajax youth academy, but is originally from Welkom in the Free State. “It will still take some time to fully adjust, but my teammates are supporting me and making it easier. In time, I’m sure I will grow into the captaincy.”
Having been in the Ajax squad that lost twice to City last season, Lebusa has a fair idea of what to expect, though he admits the arrival of McCarthy has changed things.
“Last season, City played a style of football that involved a lot of counter-attacks,” he said. “They were effective in how they did it and they had the players for it. Now, with Benni in charge, they try to keep the ball more - but they are not scoring goals.
“But whatever they bring, we will just focus on our own game, and on what we have to do to make sure that we come away with the win.”
As for City captain Robyn Johannes, the derby is about more than just doing well for the club; he acknowledged that there was a larger, more important duty.
“There are many Cape Town players in both teams, and all the families and friends will be there to support,” said Johannes. “They will all want to leave the stadium happy - and, for us, as players, we have to try to make them happy. For me and my teammates, we want to make sure the city is blue.”