CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City and Ajax Cape Town succumbed to disappointing defeats on the final afternoon of the PSL season on Saturday – City came unstuck 4-2 away to Polokwane City, while Ajax produced a limp performance in losing 1-0 at home to Baroka FC.
But, in a league campaign, one result doesn’t define a season; it’s what ensued over the course of the last 10 months that is a far better pointer as to the fortunes or misfortunes of a football club. It’s no different for City and Ajax.
As it was, City, in its debut campaign, finished third on the PSL standings and qualify for next season’s CAF Confederation Cup. Ajax end in an unsatisfactory 10th position – and they will look back with regret at Saturday’s defeat. They had a great opportunity to finish in the top eight, but turned in a display devoid of desire and intensity. As such, they paid the price.
So, in reflecting on the Cape clubs’ seasons, and in looking forward to what improvements are needed for the next campaign, let’s unpack a few of the positives and negatives:
CAPE TOWN CITY
POSITIVE: So much has been written and discussed about the fantastic impact City have made on the PSL, both on and off the field. They’ve played some good football, won the Telkom Knockout and finished in a more than respectable third place.
The secret to that success has been the outstanding team unity, the tactical nous and man management of coach Eric Tinkler, and the vision and organisational ability of club boss John Comitis.
In Lebogang Manyama and Aubrey Ngoma, City had two of the more creative footballers in the league, while, on the team’s best days, the defensive shape and structure were magnificent. In general, though, it was the overall commitment and never-say-die attitude of the players – many of them in their first stay in the Mother City – that inspired the club to deliver a season which will linger long in the memory.
NEGATIVE: There’s no doubt the squad lacks strength in depth. Whenever they lost one or two key players, to injury or suspension, they struggled – it was even particularly evident in Saturday’s defeat to Polokwane, when City missed a few starting team regulars. And, with the rigours of African competition ahead next season, Comitis needs to have his cheque book ready because City are going to have to bring in a few quality signings to beef up the squad.
The other factor to consider is that next season City will no longer be an unknown entity, as they largely were this season. Teams will be better prepared, they now know how the Capetonians play, they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses, which is why Tinkler and his players are likely to find things a bit tougher.
AJAX CAPE TOWN
POSITIVE: In a roller coaster, rather erratic season for Ajax, it’s probably a bit difficult to find many positives, but there were a few – and one most certainly is the arrival of Stanley Menzo as head coach.
He has brought discipline to the squad, both on and off the field, he’s a personable, approachable character, and his belief in offering young players an opportunity has also been good (hence, the sensational impact made by 18-year-old Grant Margeman).
The defensive shape has also been improved since Menzo took over as coach. In addition to Rivaldo Coetzee, described by Menzo as the club’s best player, a few others, too, rose to the occasion, and here the names of Roscoe Pietersen, Thabo Mosadi, Ndiviwe Mdabuka and Mark Mayambela have to be mentioned.
NEGATIVE: Overall, though, there have been far more negatives than positives for Ajax in a season in which the squad has played well below potential.
The big issue is that this team needs to realise that ball possession and territory means nothing without a clinical, more urgent cutting edge in and around the penalty area.
In fact, Saturday’s defeat to Baroka aptly demonstrated the Cape side’s woeful season in a nutshell: It was a performance lacking in intensity, hunger and commitment; there was a complacency that suggested they felt they just had to rock up and the result would follow. That’s not how football works – a team has to work hard for victory, it has to earn its success.
For too much of the campaign, Ajax looked like they thought they were special and were exempt from anything that resembled individual responsibility, and team commitment and obligation. The big problem in this team is not talent, it’s probably more in the head than the feet – and, that, is where Menzo has to start when he prepares the players for next season.