CAPE TOWN - Muhsin Ertugral has always been a coach who provides opportunities for young, emerging footballers, but he also has to be realistic about Ajax Cape Town’s current predicament.
As such, when he arrived for his fourth spell in charge of the Cape side, he needed to be pragmatic about how to rescue the team - and the balance needed to weigh heavily in favour of experience.
Hence, while the Turkish coach has given young Yagan Sasman an opportunity in the team, he has also brought in seasoned campaigners like Yannick Zakri, Siboniso Gaxa, Tendai Ndoro and Siyanda Zwane.
A relegation scrap is not for the faint of heart. It demands experienced footballers who won’t fold when the pressure is on. Such is the situation as the Urban Warriors continue to flounder towards the basement of the PSL standings.
With eight games to go to the end of the season, and with the points gap still tight at the bottom, there is still time to engineer a turnaround. But, in order to do so, Ajax have to start winning - and quickly too.
They have an opportunity on Wednesday night when they host SuperSport United at Athlone Stadium (7.30pm kickoff) - and, after losing to Golden Arrows at the weekend, Ertugral will be urging his men to step up; victory is paramount.
Zwane, particularly, has been a valuable addition for Ajax. With Ertugral alternating between two systems during games - either three at back or five at the back, depending on the situation - an intelligent right wing-back is vital. The 32-year-old Zwane perfectly fits the bill, and he has been brilliant for the Cape side since his arrival.
Ertugral has long been a fan as he worked with Zwane at Arrows a few years ago. The player then signed for Mamelodi Sundowns and was in the squad that won the African Champions League. But, having fallen down the pecking order at a club always bursting with quality, Ertugral was able to entice Zwane for a loan spell in the Mother City.
Ertugral calls Zwane “Yo-Yo” because of the player’s lung-busting runs up and down the right flank. “He is a player I’ve always admired,” said the Turkish coach. “He does the fundamentals right and always does the right things. He is a workaholic, and he can play in the two systems we use at Ajax.”
Now, as the Capetonians prepare to face SuperSport, Zwane is under no illusions as to challenge facing the club.
“We were unfortunate to lose (against Arrows),” said Zwane. “But, compared to some of the other games we’ve played, we did well in keeping the ball and trying to open up the opponents. Arrows sat back and defended their 1-0 lead and it was difficult to break them down. We tried, but it just wasn’t to be.
“At this stage, we cannot take any game for granted. SuperSport are also struggling and they believe they should be in the top eight. They come off a 1-1 draw with Sundowns, so they will be feeling better than us, because we come off a defeat. But, for us, every game is a Cup final and we just have to come away with the points. From where we are (on the log), it’s vital that we get the win.”
When asked what was ailing Ajax at the moment, in their inability to bring consistency to the team, Zwane said it was all in the head.
“Sometimes it’s just all mental. I’ve always believed that, if the game is in South Africa, it cannot be an away game,” he said.
“Yes, you aren’t playing on a field that you use regularly, but still you cannot worry about whether it is home or away. Every game is vital. We are positive, we’ve put the Arrows loss behind us, and we are focused on the SuperSport game.”