CAPE TOWN – Muhsin Ertugral has always been Ajax Cape Town’s go-to coach.
When the team’s struggling, and they’re looking for someone to turn things around, invariably the 58-year-old Turkish-born mentor is the man the Cape club looks to for guidance and inspiration.
It was no different this week, with Ajax wallowing second-from-bottom on the PSL standings, the Capetonians again sent out an SOS to Ertugral. The previous incumbent Stanley Menzo quit on Thursday, and just hours later, Ertugral was installed as the new head coach of the club. Now the fiery Turk will have to again don his super-hero cape to rescue an Ajax side battling with inconsistency.
It was, though, a bit of a surprise to see Ertugral return. It’s no secret he has had issues with the Efstathiou brothers, the current directors of Ajax. In December 2015, when Erturgal was in charge at Mpumalanga Black Aces, and his team had beaten the Capetonians in a PSL fixture, afterwards, in the post-match interview, he dedicated the victory to the Comitis brothers. At the time, it was a clear reference to the feud between the Efstathiou and Comitis families.
But, irrespective of what happened in the past, the one thing that has always been constant is that Ertugral has always had a soft spot for Ajax. And, as he says, it didn’t take him too long to make a decision to return.
“Cape Town is a home to me,” said the new Ajax coach. “This is where I live when I’m not working. I have been associated with Ajax before (this is his fourth spell in charge) and I’m happy to be back. There is a difficult task ahead, but if I didn’t think I could turn it around, I wouldn’t be here.
“Ajax are a great project. They are a trademark, not just in South Africa but all over the world. The Ajax way is about bringing young players up. There is a lot of talent here; we must not forget what Ajax have done for SA football in bringing players into the market.”
Ertugral remembers his last stint at the club quite vividly. When he took over in 2013, Ajax were staring at a serious threat of relegation, with just four games remaining in the season. But the Turk got them organised, got them going again, and steered the team to safety. Now he faces the same challenge, but has a lot more time and games for the rescue operation.
“Ajax don’t belong where they are at the moment,” said Ertugral. “I have to give the team hope and possibility, and get everybody pulling in the same direction. As a coach, I’ve always believed that the middle-season transfer window is very difficult. I obviously want to reinforce here and there, but don’t want to discuss that now. I have to think about a few things, like what system we set up, what organisation we will have, see how I want the team to play, will it be two strikers or one, and how do I want to set up the midfield?”
Ari Efstathiou, the Ajax chief executive, explained some of the thinking behind their decision to dispense with Menzo, and recall Ertugral.
“Results haven’t been coming,” said Efstathiou. “It was correct to give Stanley (Menzo) the best opportunity - we got four points against Wits and Chippa in Johannesburg, but then lost to Chiefs. But the log position doesn’t lie We now have 16 games left and nine of them at home, with five home games in January. It was important that we took emotions and feelings out of the way, and make a decision based on the survival of the club.
“Muhsin has been successful with the club before. When he’s been here, the team has always done well, and importantly, with him in charge, the kids have come through the academy.”
Ertugral is probably just the type of coach Ajax need right now. In an under-performing squad, he will demand absolute commitment. He won’t have favourites, he’ll start from scratch, allowing every member of the squad an opportunity to impress and make a case to be selected. Unlike the avuncular, soft-spoken Menzo, Ertugral’s a hard, disciplined taskmaster. At this point in time, with Ajax in serious need of direction and belief, they couldn’t have found a better fit.