‘Everyone is a bit African’

‘Everyone is a bit African’

Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town in South Africa since 1999. In the ‘Message from Cape Town’ column, we focus on the African Ajax team each week. In this sixth edition of the 2012-2013 season, we feature the two African players in Amsterdam. Eyong Enoh and Thulani Serero are ambassadors for the Cape Town club.

“The bridge between South Africa and the Netherlands is getting broader”, said Gavin Benjafield a few months ago. The physical performance manager was the first staff member to cross over from Ajax Cape Town to Ajax Amsterdam. In this, he followed the example of Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy and current Ajax players Eyong Enoh and Thulani Serero, among others.
The 26 year old Enoh has been described by Serero (22) as his ‘big brother’. “And that’s not just because we’re both African or played together at Ajax CT. It’s also because he has a lot of experience and is a bit older than I am. He’s an inspiration for me. That’s why I see him as a big brother who can give me advice in all sorts of areas. And I always listen to him, because Eyong is a good person. I try to do what he says, both on and off the field.”
It’s already Enoh’s fifth season with Ajax. Since the Cameroon native was brought to Ajax in 2008 by Marco van Basten, he’s played a total of 95 Eredivisie matches under Van Basten, Jol and De Boer. His hundredth game will need to wait due to a knee injury. This injury has put a hold on a planned visit to his former employer this summer. “I would have liked to go to Ajax Cape Town to see what’s changed since I left. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible because of my knee injury. I hope to get the chance to go to Cape Town next year during the Nations Cup.”
When the man from Kumba arrived in Amsterdam at age 22, he had a good idea of what to expect. After two seasons in Cape Town, Enoh was aware of the specific Ajax playing style and culture. Thanks in part to the Dutch coaches who set the guidelines from 10.000 kilometers away. “They represent the Ajax brand and the Dutch football school. That’s very important. So the step from African Ajax to Dutch Ajax isn’t that big. The hardest part comes once you’ve made the step. Then you need to adjust to the higher level of play in Amsterdam, and life in the Netherlands. Ajax Cape Town is the perfect platform for players who want to reach the top. The opportunity to play in the Champions League via Ajax is definitely there. There are several examples of that, including myself. Everyone in South Africa dreams of playing in the Champions League against Real Madrid or AC Milan. With Ajax, that’s possible.”
Whoever says that Enoh and Serero form the African heart of Ajax will be set straight by the man from Cameroon. Enoh: “Tobias Sana is a little bit African as well. His father is from Burkina Faso and his mother’s from Nigeria. So although he grew up in Sweden, he can be counted as an African. That’s true of several more players. Take for example my personal favorite, Jan Vertonghen. Although he’s Belgian, I noticed during his time at Ajax that he also has some African traits. Vertonghen has the African mentality. In fact, everyone is a bit African.”

When told about Enoh’s comment, Serero laughs. “That’s typical Enoh”, says the South African about his ‘Ajax brother’. Still, he also emphasizes Sana’s African roots. And although Serero has been with Ajax for more than a year, he wasn’t selected as the person to show the IFK Göteborg forward around at Ajax. “I’ve been here for longer than him, but I’m a year younger. I still have a lot to learn. Fortunately, Sana learns quickly. That’s good for him, and definitely for the team.”
The four year older Enoh is more of an advice giver. About Serero, he says: “Thulani has made a good start this season. Now he needs to keep focusing for the whole year. It’s not just about having a good start, but also about having a good end to the season. You need to constantly develop yourself in order to become better and reach a consistent, higher level. Football isn’t any different here than in South Africa, but it’s the other things that make the difference, like the mental aspect. Sometimes you play, and sometimes you don’t. But you always have to be ready in case the team needs you. That’s where Thulani’s developing well right now.”
Enoh’s contract runs until 2015. By that time, he’ll have a serious shot at the ‘African Mister Ajax’ title. Still, the Cameroonian international’s ambitions reach further than simply being Sjaak Swart’s African equivalent. “Of course that title would be an honour, but in football, it’s all about continuing to develop yourself. I’m still young, so if the opportunity to go to a big competition ever arose, you’d have to take that opportunity seriously. Sometimes, it’s time for the next step. But for now, I’m fine here at Ajax. First I need to get fit, and then go on to play my hundredth Eredivisie match.”