Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town since 1999. In our Message from Cape Town column, we regularly feature the African Ajax team. In the second issue of the new season, Corné Groenendijk (39) tells his story. This summer, the Dutchman became head of Ajax Cape Town’s youth development.
Thanks to Corné Groenendijk’s arrival, the number of Dutch natives at Ajax Cape Town has remained steady. The Utrecht native succeeded Maarten Stekelenburg, who in turn has taken over from Foppe de Haan as head coach. Assistant coach Jan Pruijn completes the Dutch trio in Cape Town. A good number, thinks the new head of youth development. "It’s important that there aren’t too many Dutch people with the club. Our job is to train South African coaches, and to leave something behind locally.”
A nice challenge awaits Groenendijk in Cape Town. After 15 years with the KNVB, he’s expanding his horizons, literally. “It was a tough decision to leave the KNVB. I enjoyed working there for many years. But it was a good time to make this move. Partly because my family was also ready.” His duties with the KNVB were varied. “In Zeist, I was working on football development, among other things. During the last years, I was closely involved with setting up the Regional Academies and the national youth teams. With Ajax Cape Town, I’m going back to football development and will also work on perfecting the academy and youth scouting.”
For Groenendijk, the last weeks have been mainly about moving and getting his bearings with his new employer. “So much is already going well with Ajax Cape Town. Maarten Stekelenburg has been doing great work here in the last few years. There is lots of talent, and it’s a good organization with all South African coaches. I want to raise the level of the program even more in the next few years. One of my biggest challenges will be to bring the knowledge that I’ve built up with the KNVB and the Dutch clubs over to this club.”
Groenendijk has a good feel for youth football in the Netherlands thanks to his KNVB background. He also did a year’s internship with Ajax when he was going through the Trainer/Coach 1 program. “That’s how I know many coaches from the program. I also had a meeting in 2004 for a position with Ajax Cape Town with Louis van Gaal, who was the technical director at the time. I also know Foppe de Haan very well, as the former national coach for Jong Oranje. In short; the football world is small.”
Compared to his former role with the football association, fieldwork will be a prominent part of his new job in South Africa. “In the coming years, together with head coach Maarten Stekelenburg and Jan Pruijn, I really want to establish something great. Thulani Serero’s (21) recent move to Ajax Amsterdam has certainly given a boost to both the club and the training program. Young players in South Africa see that such a move is possible, via Ajax Cape Town to the big Ajax in the Netherlands. It’s our job to create optimal conditions so that we can enjoy the talented South African players, both in Cape Town and in Amsterdam.”