CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town coach Stanley Menzo has had a tough time over the last few months, but his constant belief in the team is gradually paying dividends.
Things have turned for the better in recent weeks, culminating in two morale-boosting results in Johannesburg last week - a 0-0 draw with PSL champions Wits and a 1-0 win over high-riding Chippa United. Now, Ajax are looking to maintain that momentum when they take on Kaizer Chiefs at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday night (8.15pm kickoff).
There can be nothing more frustrating, or difficult, than coaching a struggling football team. Day after day, the hard work is put in and game plans are hatched, and then, week after week, the team continues to lose. Menzo has run the gamut in experiencing the emotions with regards to this particular aspect of football.
Appointed as Ajax coach in October last season, replacing Roger de Sa, the former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper got things going and it looked good at the time. But the early promise was too quickly to fade away and the Cape side has been in the grip of inconsistency for quite a while now.
Spare a though for Menzo, though. Often it has just been a case of the ball just not running for the team, or a silly, unnecessary error resulting in dropped points. Throughout it all, however, the Ajax coach has remained the epitome of dignity. He has shouldered the responsibility of the team’s failures and has always been looking for solutions.
He has never shied away from the fragility of his job situation, and frankly revealed that, if he didn’t believe in the team’s ability to turn it around, he would have walked away. He stuck around and, finally, there appears to be a glimmer of light.
It has taken a shift in thinking, though, to bring more solidity and stability to the team. Hopefully, the change to a more conservative, circumspect approach is only temporary and, once the team starts being more consistent, we will see the old entertaining, swashbuckling Ajax again.
The Ajax coach gave some insight into his attitude during the difficult times.
“You don’t look at the opponent,” said Menzo. “You focus on the energy of your own players, and you focus on your way of playing. I think if you look at it, no team has really outplayed us this season - it’s just mistakes that were causing the problem. So now it’s about keeping things tight, doing the things that we can do, and picking up points where we can.
“There a lot of youngsters in the team, and that’s not easy. But I care about the players, and my approach is always to do everything I can to help them. For me, the team is like a big family.”
With Chiefs on the horizon, Menzo is happy with the last two results and performances - and he has impressed on his players to produce the same effort and commitment.
“While those results will give us confidence against Chiefs, I always believe that confidence doesn’t give points,” said the coach. “You still have to go out and work hard; you still have to go out and fight; you still have to go out and do the things you have to do. As far as I am concerned, we are still struggling. The team showed good mentality against Wits and Chippa, but we are still towards the bottom of the log.”
As for the upcoming January transfer window, Menzo said the Urban Warriors will be doing some business, but stressed that they will be shrewd about their targets.
“This is not a bad Ajax team, it’s a good team. But I think perhaps the team needs an extra player who can finish the chances we create,” he said.