Muhsin Ertugral says the big problem at Ajax is how the players are reacting when they lose the ball. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Muhsin Ertugral’s project to knock Ajax Cape Town into shape is still a work in progress. The Turkish coach, while satisfied with the improvement he has seen since returning earlier this month for his fourth stint at the club, admits that there is a long way to go.

Because of Ajax’s precarious log position, and the fact that Ertugral doesn’t have too much time for the rescue operation, at this stage it’s simply a case of using a bandage to paper over the cracks, rather than trying to fix everything. Next season, once the salvage task has been completed, Ertugral will be able to start from scratch and inculcate his ideas and plans more fully.

On Friday night, Ajax are back in action when they host Free State Stars in a PSL fixture at Cape Town Stadium (8pm kickoff)  and the coach is confident of further improvement from his team.

“There is no Muhsin style of play,” said Ertugral. “I have to adjust to the team that I coach, and to the players that are at the club. I have to look at all the departments in the team and ask ‘where are the problems?’ At this stage, with so little time, I can’t solve everything, but I can try to minimise the percentage of things that go wrong.

“My task here is about repetition because that is how players learn. We have discussions, explanations and chats, for hours, and it’s about decoding what we want to achieve. For example, often a player receives the ball and only then he thinks about what his next move is. In an ideal situation, when he receives the ball, he should already know what he wants to do next. But such things require training, hard work and repetition. It takes time, but we will get there.”

The main thrust of Ertugral’s arrival at Ajax has been to bring greater attacking impetus to the team. Under former coach, Stanley Menzo, the Cape side was extremely defensive and conservative, but the Turk has stressed the need for offence. At the same time he is also trying to ensure that there is a security plan in place with regards to defence.

The club’s new signings in attack will certainly provide opposition defences with major headaches. On Wednesday, Ertugral unveiled the latest new man Ivory Coast striker Yannick Zakri (on loan from Sundowns until the end of the season) - and, needless to say, the coach was chuffed to have such talent up front.

“It’s great to have such quality in the squad,” said the Ajax coach. “With Zakri, Tendai (Ndoro) and Fagrie (Lakay), we are now much stronger in attack. I want an offensive team because you can’t build confidence by being defensive.

“In football, a team can play badly, and the opponent can be better, but it will still come down to key moments in the game. For example, in the Cape derby, if we get the right decision when Tendai Ndoro should have been given the advantage by the referee, then it changes the whole game. It’s such elements that are vital. Football is not rugby or ice hockey where the best team wins; sometimes it’s the most organised team that wins, sometimes it’s the lucky team that wins.

“But the derby is in the past, it’s history. Now we have to ask ourselves, ‘how do we improve?’ At the moment, we are too quick to get forward, so there is no support; we have to get our build-ups to be more patient. We are also losing the ball too quickly, which puts us under pressure. The big problem is how the players react when we lose the ball.”

As for Stars tonight, who are highly-placed on the PSL standings in fourth position, Ertugral is fully aware of the difficulty of the challenge.

“Free State Stars have done well. Their tactical awareness is good and their transitions are excellent. We have to show them respect; they are not up there on the log for nothing. We have to make sure that we are composed. For me, I’m just happy that, as a team, we are getting better day by day.”

Cape Times

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