CAPE TOWN – Mitchells Plain’s Morné Nel has an opportunity to revitalise a once-promising career that appears to have stalled at SuperSport United.
The 21-year-old central midfielder has signed a loan deal that will see him in the colours of Ajax Cape Town this season – and the move could in time to come prove ideal, especially with Travis Graham set to leave the Cape club.
Ajax coach Stanley Menzo believes Nel has potential, but perhaps needs a bit more time.
A replacement for Graham, though, is where Menzo is particularly focused – and he is glad that Ajax have done a loan deal to bring Nel to the club.
Nel was a teenage prodigy at the Old Mutual Academy. He signed for SuperSport United three years ago and has already had two training stints with Tottenham Hotspur in England.
He battled for game time at Matsatsantsa, especially in his position in central midfield where the Pretoria club has Dean Furman and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, so he is hoping to revive his career back home in the Cape.
“In central midfield, we will have to find a solution,” said Menzo. “We’ve had a few trialists in the position, and we’ve had Morné (Nel) play there as well. We will, of course, see if we can fill the position internally, but it’s all part of the process.
“Morné is a good player and we probably need some time with him. It’s clear from the friendlies that he hasn’t played in a long time, it shows in the games, but if he’s willing to learn, I am sure that we can use him.”
But Menzo has a few big decisions to make before Ajax open the new PSL season with a league game against Golden Arrows at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night (8.15pm kickoff).
The former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper certainly has a few squad issues to deal with.
Star central defender Rivaldo Coetzee has made no secret of his desire to move. Earlier this season, the 20-year-old went absent without leave, trying to force the club to deal with his unhappiness.
He has since returned to training, but Menzo will no doubt be concerned about the mental state of the player.
Is he focused on Ajax, or is his mind elsewhere? Is it fair on the rest of the Ajax squad to pick a player who clearly has sights on the exit door at the club?
The latest news on the Coetzee situation is that Scottish giants Celtic have joined the queue, with local newspapers in Scotland already quizzing manager Brendan Rodgers about the Urban Warriors defender.
Then there’s Graham. The 24-year-old central midfielder, who has captained the team over the last few years, also wants out.
He has refused to sign a new contract and is in negotiation to amicably leave the club that has been a part of his life since the age of nine.
As such, because he is no longer part of the season’s planning, he has been training with the club’s Under-19s while a final decision is made with regards to his situation.
For Menzo, these are but two positions that would need careful thinking ahead of the opening clash against Arrows on Saturday.
“There are a few things we need to look at,” said Menzo. “There’s also Isaac Nhlapo (a new defensive signing from Platinum Stars), he has a hamstring niggle and we need to be a bit cautious with him. I don’t want to rush into playing him and risk losing him later in the season.
“There are a few decisions we need to make as we prepare for Arrows this week. We’ve had a good pre-season programme, with a lot of friendlies, which included a few trialists, so it’s always difficult to judge.
“But, as for the starting team, it’s particularly in terms of positions that I have a few key decisions to make. For example, do I play Mosa (Lebusa) at left back or centre back, those are the type of things I need to think about.”
Other new players at Ajax include Nigeria international Ejike Uzoenyi, central defender Junaid Sait, winger Innocent Nemukondeni and striker Sedwyn George, who was the top scorer in the NFD last season with Royal Eagles.
Strength in depth has always been a bit of a problem for Ajax in the past, but Menzo believes he has added some quality to the squad.
As for Arrows on Saturday, Menzo is prepared: “I think we know how Arrows play. I don’t think they will change much.
“But we need to focus on what we need to do, and on how we want to play. It is our home game and we have to play with confidence.”