CAPE TOWN - Football’s capacity for fairy tale has placed cousins Robyn Johannes and Roscoe Pietersen on opposing sides of the Mother City derby.
The much-anticipated PSL fixture between Ajax Cape Town and Cape Town City is scheduled for Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3pm kickoff) - and it has been spiced up by the first-ever clash between City captain and central defender Johannes and his cousin, Ajax defender Pietersen.
They say a football derby has the potential to split a family apart. That may be so, but, for Johannes and Pietersen, it certainly won’t be the case. They’ll do their jobs as professionals, they’ll do their utmost to ensure that their team emerges victorious, but, afterwards, they’ll remain as tight as ever.
The mothers of Johannes and Pietersen are sisters, with the result that the cousins spent a great deal of time together from a very young age. Growing up as talented, football-mad kids, the two aspiring young footballers used to watch the rivalry among teams like Seven Stars, Hellenic, the old Cape Town City and Santos and hope that, one day, they would be on the pitch, centre stage in a Mother City derby. Well, that day is almost upon us.
“We initially grew up in Strandfontein, but Roscoe’s family later moved to Crawford,” said the 31-year-old Johannes. “But we are very, very close and have a good relationship. We respect each other and, as kids, because I am a few years older, I always took him under my wing.
"Roscoe has great footballing ability, I think, as players, the two of us have similar characteristics, and I have great love and respect for him as a person. Like me, he has had a lot of setbacks in his career, especially with injuries, but both of us learnt from a young age that the best way is just to dust yourself off, look forward and move on. I have great admiration for Roscoe.
“This will be the first time we will play against each other and it’s going to (be) quite special. The game will take us back to the days we watched derbies at Athlone and always told ourselves that we wanted to be involved one day. Our families will be there to support us, but half will be in blue and the other half will be in red.”
Last season, City were the top dogs in the Mother City, beating Ajax twice - but, in a Cape derby, it’s best to hurl the form book out the window. While Pietersen echoed his cousin’s words with regards to their relationship, he also warned that he and his teammates were determined to make sure that, this time, Ajax came out on top in the derby.
“We were close growing up, and are still very close now,” said the 28-year-old Pietersen about his cousin, Johannes. “Robyn left for the Tuks Academy in Pretoria at a young age, but school holidays we always spent together. Weekend family braais, vacation camps and other family occasions, we were never apart.
"The funny thing is when we used to play football in the streets or in the backyard, we were always on the same side, we never played against each other. Even when we moved on to different clubs over the years, somehow we never played against each other, either he or I was always not playing. (in last season’s derby, Pietersen played, but Johannes was on the bench).”
Pietersen was one of Ajax’s stand-out performers last season, but missed the opening three games of this campaign through suspension. On his return last week, he was on the bench for the win over Polokwane City, and started in the 2-2 draw with Baroka FC at the weekend.
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Ajax coach Stanley Menzo, in fact, tweaked his team tactically for the Baroka match, playing with three central defenders at the back - Pietersen, Isaac Nhlapo and Mario Booysen. It worked well and, chances are, that Menzo will opt for the same approach against City.
“I think the team is starting to gel nicely now,” said Pietersen. “The coach’s philosophy is coming through, especially as far as the tactical approach is concerned, and we will get better as the season progresses.
"For us, we want to reclaim bragging rights for the club and our supporters as the premier team in the Cape - we owe it to them and we are up for it. No motivation is needed, we just want to win the city back.”
Johannes noted the determination in his cousin’s words, which was why he emphasised that City wouldn’t be complacent because of last season’s results.
“We beat Ajax comfortably and convincingly on two occasions last season, but we know that won’t mean anything on Saturday,” said the City skipper. “In a derby like this, form counts for nothing, it’s all about who wants it more on the day. For us, this is about the three points on offer, and we want to make sure that Cape Town is blue.”