CAPE TOWN - Coaches are different. They have their own philosophy of football and a specific opinion of the type of player they need to implement their vision.
Coaches have different eyes. When they watch football, at training or in a game, they see things differently, and the strengths and weaknesses they isolate in players are based on their own individual perspective of the sport.
It has been particularly evident at Ajax Cape Town, where the arrival of Muhsin Ertugral as head coach has ushered in a completely new outlook and approach. Players who were often first on the previous coach’s team sheet are now battling for game time; and players who hardly featured a few months ago are now first in the queue.
One such player is 21-year-old left-footer Yagan Sasman. When the Turkish coach took charge of a struggling Ajax side for his first training session in December, Sasman immediately caught his eye. Standing on the touchline with a few Ajax officials, watching the players go through their paces, Ertugral pointed at the left-back and said: “Who’s that?”
Ever since, Sasman has gone from strength to strength, playing in a new left wing-back role the coach believes perfectly suits the player’s game. And yet Sasman has been in the Ajax PSL squad since the age of 18; he just never got a regular look-in before.
Many would say he probably hasn’t got in because the Cape club has the excellent Mosa Lebusa playing at left-back. But again, coaches are different: ask Ertugral about Lebusa and he will tell you he prefers playing Lebusa in the centre of defence, where he can utilise the captain’s all-round game intelligence, technique and aerial ability to better effect.
Sasman is from Retreat, he matriculated at Norman Henshilwood in Constantia, and has been in the Ajax academy since the age of 10. Four years ago, he and Bafana Bafana defender Rivaldo Coetzee spent two weeks training with Ajax Amsterdam in Holland, an indication that he has always been on the radar as a player to watch. Opportunity just hasn’t come his way, until the arrival of Ertugral.
“Muhsin (Ertugral) is a good coach,” said Sasman. “He has coached top teams in Europe and the PSL. As a team, we’ve learnt a lot from him over the last few weeks. With him believing in me, it has been going well. I’m listening to instructions and applying what I’m told at training and in games. It’s just a case of following the philosophy of his game plan and putting it into action.”
Sasman admits it had been a frustrating time for him on the sidelines. He never gave up, though, always believing his chance would come.
“It was a fluctuating period, not playing, and in and out,” he said. “But I kept working hard, stayed focused and did what I was told. Also, on the bench, when you are watching, it’s important to look and learn from others.
"You have to try not to make the same mistakes, so that when you come in you can make a difference. You have to apply what you have leant and move forward from there.”
Sasman also realises, now that he is in the team, that the hard work only starts. There are other players hoping to get in and if he wants to stay there, he’s going to have to make sure he performs consistently.
“I want to play as many games as I can,” he said. “Not only that, I want us to win games, because we need the points.
"I’m really enjoying playing as a wing-back because it means I can help in attack and defence. The only problem with the team right now is that we need to finish our scoring opportunities.”