CAPE TOWN - It is important that Ajax Cape Town not get carried away after last week’s 2-0 win over Polokwane City at the Cape Town Stadium. In fact, to be brutally honest, if it had been against any other team, the Cape side could well have got punished.
Next up Ajax tackle an in-form, much-improved Baroka FC in a PSL fixture at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Saturday afternoon (3pm), and it’s vital that they rather focus on what went wrong last week, rather than dwell on the fact that they registered their first win of the season: there is a lot for head coach Stanley Menzo to ponder.
In short, if Ajax don’t improve on the following four areas of concern, then it could be a very long season indeed:
Where is the hunger?
Last week, against Polokwane, it was particularly the complete lack of energy and enthusiasm which characterised the team’s worst moments. Yes, they had plenty of possession, but it was as if they were playing walking football - there was no intensity, and there was little desire and hunger about the manner in which they went about their business. This was indeed worrying for Menzo, which was why he had a stern chat to the players at half-time, especially with regard to their lethargy. Football is not just a game of skill and tactics, more importantly it demands animation, verve and dynamism. Right now, it’s an area in which are Ajax are falling short.
Where the movement?
There’s a popular adage in football that the man in possession of the ball is not all that important, it’s the players off the ball who are far more crucial when trying to break down the opposition. In keeping with this, offensive play is only effective when there is movement off the ball, when teammates shift positions and create space for the man in possession to pass the ball around intelligently. Alas, this is another area of concern for Ajax. There are far too many players ball-watching; they are too static, with the result that the man on the ball often looks an utter idiot: simply because he has nobody to pass to. One of the key successes of the “Ajax Way” is clever movement off the ball - yet, at the moment, it is absent from the Cape side’s interpretation of the Dutch philosophy.
Where is the belief?
When a youngster decides he has a bit of football ability, his first objective is to exhibit it on a grander stage. He wants to show people what he can do. So he takes his talent, combines it with self-belief, and confidently displays it on a football field. He controls, he passes, he darts around, he communicates, he shoots, and becomes an integral part of contributing to a team as a whole. In a nutshell, that is the definition of being a footballer. At Ajax, though, this confidence and self-belief are non-existent. In essence, there are far too many players freezing on match-day; they are dead scared of making mistakes, which is why they are hiding from the ball. Perhaps, it’s time for the Ajax squad to remember why they got into football in the first place, so they can re-discover the unabashed joy of playing, and then regain that missing confidence and self-belief.
Where is the leadership?
There was an inspirational image at half-time of the Polokwane match last week. It was goalless, and a soulless Ajax team was trooping off. Then new central defender Mario Booysen kicked into gear - he gathered the players around him on the field and gave them a “hairdryer” that Sir Alex Ferguson would have been proud of. Booysen is back in the Mother City after a six-year hiatus, and was in just his second game for Ajax since his return as part of the Rivaldo Coetzee-to-Sundowns deal. He is not the captain, but so irate was he at the listlessness of his teammates that he felt the need to remind them of their responsibility as players. This is what Ajax need, and they need a helluva lot more of this type of spirit and attitude. They need more players to take the initiative, like Booysen did, and they need the squad to man up.