CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town have one game to save their season - and, while former players are rooting for the team, they are also quick to point out that the club is largely at fault for much of what has happened during this turbulent campaign.
The side hosts Kaizer Chiefs in the final PSL game of the season at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3pm). Currently second-from-bottom on the standings, they at least know victory will be sufficient to ensure their top-flight status.
But, based on the opposition they are coming up against, that knowledge could be scant consolation. It’s never easy against the popular Soweto club and this fixture is likely to be no different.
Former Ajax players Nathan Paulse and Brent Carelse, who have been through the good and the bad with the club over the years, urged the current squad to give their all on Saturday.
“I think everyone at Ajax are under no illusions about the importance of the last game of the season against Chiefs,” said Paulse. “There is a lot more at stake than just the PSL, because there are jobs on the line - the admin staff, the players, the coaches and there are also all the juniors in the academy to think of too.
"For example, if you look at the kit man, Albert Hendricks, he’s been there right from the start and he’s built his whole life around the club. Because of all this, it’s important for the players to be aware of what they are playing for on Saturday.
“Just as importantly, though, the players must make sure that they aren’t distracted by the hype and expectation. They have to treat this game as a Cup final, a once-off - that is the attitude they have to adopt: win this game (against Chiefs) and you win a trophy.”
Carelse warned that football is a strange game and, because of that, Ajax should make sure that they are fully prepared.
“This is certainly the biggest game since the club has been around,” said Carelse. “I think that this season they’ve just struggled to get results. But I’m hoping that they win and I will definitely be supporting them on Saturday. It is important that a club like Ajax stay in the PSL. But football is a funny game. It’s unpredictable and anything can happen.
"That is why I hope the players know that, when they take the field on Saturday, they are playing for the workers, the academy and so much more. It’s not the players, but the ordinary people involved with the club who will ultimately feel the pain.”
So what’s gone wrong this season? Both Paulse and Carelse offered some insight.
“In my opinion, it has been a gradual decline,” said Paulse. “Football is always a process, and in this regard Ajax haven’t helped themselves. They have tried to do things with shortcuts - in football, you can’t do that, you have to stick to the process. You can’t re-invent the football wheel, and I think what Ajax are experiencing now is because of what they failed to do in previous years; it has now caught up with them.
“This season, it hasn’t just been one thing that has been the problem, it has a been a series of events that have placed them in this situation. They also haven’t been helped by the Tendai Ndoro situation. In essence, their youth policy is good, but too often they’ve neglected the fact that experience is just as important; a club needs to have pillars it can rely on when things get tough.”
Carelse agreed that, while Ajax’s youth policy was admirable, it had its limitations and its problems.
“I think what’s gone wrong at Ajax is not just about this season,” he said. “It will always happen because of the way the club operates; they will always struggle every few seasons. It’s okay to focus on young players, but there is a big gap between youth football and the PSL.
"And, even if these youngsters win tournaments in Europe, there is a difference between junior and senior football. These promoted players take quite a while to adapt to the PSL and it’s during this time that the club struggles.
"In my opinion, they bring through too many youngsters at the same time. Yes, it brings down the wage bill, but it’s also the main reason why they continue to battle in the PSL. So, in terms of Ajax as a club, they will always produce players, but, as a team in the PSL, they will struggle.”