CAPE TOWN – Muhsin Ertugral is not everybody’s cup of tea.
He’s unconventional, he’s unpredictable and, at times, he’s volatile. But there’s no doubting his coaching pedigree and tactical nous. He’s a deep thinker and an astute scholar of the game. Everything he does, on training and from the bench on match day, has a motivation; his decisions are always the result of deep tactical thought in a bid to make his team perform better.
As Ajax prepare to face neighbours Cape Town City in the Cape derby at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3.30pm kickoff), Ertugral has already provided a perfect example of his reading of the game when the Capetonians played Platinum Stars last Friday.
With Ajax 1-0 down and battling to break down the opposition’s stubborn, organised defence, Ertugral seemingly made a baffling change at the start of the second half when he substituted promising young striker Fagrie Lakay and brought on midfielder Ndiviwe Mdabuka. But there was a method to his madness - and Ajax went on to win 3-1 as they overwhelmed Platinum Stars in the final 20 minutes.
Ertugral gave some insight into his decision: “I thought in the first half the crosses weren’t coming in and the work in the last third wasn’t good enough. Mosa (Lebusa, left-back) is our out play, we needed to get him in the game, but he couldn’t get out, so we changed things at halftime.
“I took off a striker (Lakay) and brought on a midfielder (Mdabuka) and people probably thought 'what’s he doing?' But the point was that we needed to free up Mosa, so we played 3-5-2 in the second half, changed the pattern, and I have to take my hat off to the boys they played Platinum off the park in the last 20 minutes, it was marvellous to watch.”
It demonstrates that Ertugral’s quirky love affair with Ajax is already having a positive effect. Now, with Ajax on the up and improving with every game, it ratchets up the anticipation for Saturday’s derby encounter against City.
There is certainly a new vigour at Ajax. Ertugral has introduced his inimitable coaching style at training sessions, he has brought in fresh ideas and innovative tactics, and, suddenly, there’s a buzz and excitement around a club that has been in the doldrums for so long.
Ertugral handed a debut to new signing Tendai Ndoro, and the 32-year-old Zimbabwean striker duly scored on his first appearance since arriving at the Mother City PSL club.
“Ndoro is a player who is always in an angle in the build-up process, which is why he is able to open up the lines for himself and other players,” said Ertugral. “Going forward, we have about seven or eight pass patterns that we use, and Ndoro is aware of them. We still need to perfect the patterns, but Ndoro is going to do well for us.”
Ndoro will, of course, be crucial in the Cape derby against City on Saturday. But, needless to say, Ertugral is looking forward to the clash. Not only has he been involved in many a Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - but, with Ajax not having won a match in this new Cape rivalry as yet, he is determined to change his club’s fortunes.
“City are playing good football and I have great memories of some of their players from my time with them at (Mpumalanga) Black Aces. It will be a good game, but I am confident we can pull it off,” said Ertugral.