CAPE TOWN - After all the fuss around the departure of Rivaldo Coetzee, the centre of the Ajax Cape Town defence is not looking too shabby at all.
Coetzee, the 20-year-old central defender who played such an integral part for the Cape side over the last few seasons, signed for Mamelodi Sundowns last month. But now, in his absence, Ajax have established a solid core of reliable central defenders, including Isaac Nhlapo, Mario Booysen, Junaid Sait, Roscoe Pietersen and impressive new signing Soumaila Ouattara, a 22-year-old centre-back from Burkina Faso.
For now, the chosen partnership for head coach Stanley Menzo is Nhlapo and Booysen, the experienced defender from Bonteheuwel, who returned to Ajax last month as part of the deal that took Coetzee to Sundowns. The duo performed excellently in the Cape side’s 2-0 win over Polokwane City last week - and they will, no doubt, anchor the defence for Saturday’s trip to Limpopo to face Baroka FC (kick-off 3pm).
Nhlapo, previously with Platinum Stars, had long been on the Ajax radar. They got him to sign a pre-contract in January this year. The defender then saw out of the remainder of last season in Rustenburg and officially arrived for Ajax’s pre-season training programme in June. He’s a real tough cookie, a rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners defender who frightens the life out of opposing strikers. In fact, even Menzo himself has said: “I can assure you I wouldn’t like to play against Isaac (Nhlapo).”
To emphasise the combative, aggressive nature of Nhlapo, it’s interesting to note that he is appropriately nicknamed “Lion”.
“The nickname, where does it come from?” said Nhlapo. “I always give 100 percent, I’m strong, and I always fight hard, that is why they call me the ‘Lion’.”
For the new Ajax central defender, things have been going quite nicely. Needless to say, he was chuffed that the Cape side managed to get the first win of the season under their belt with last week’s success over Polokwane.
“I thought we did well against Polokwane,” said Nhlapo. “We were under pressure in the first half, but we wanted to win by all means. We tried, we worked hard, and we got it right in the second half to get the win.
“I’m getting better and better with every game. It’s new to me here in the Cape and I’m just glad that the weather is starting to become warmer. I appreciate the support I have been getting from the club and the supporters.”
Nhlapo is building a good partnership and understanding with Booysen in the centre of defence, and he’s confident that it can only keep on improving.
“Mario and I have played a few games together,” said the 26-year-old Nhlapo. We are starting to get a good combination going. We are strong and our main task is just to make sure we stop the opponents from getting goals.”
Next up for Ajax will be an in-form Baroka side - and the Capetonians know they are in for a really tough time of it in the Limpopo Province. Having narrowly managed to avoid relegation last season, Baroka have considerably strengthened their squad with a number of new acquisitions, and it has paid dividends at this early stage of the season.
“The difficult thing about Baroka is that they play with no structure they just play,” said Nhlapo. “At Ajax, we are more structured, so I think we just have to go out there and make sure we get the result.”