Ajax has had a majority holding in Ajax Cape Town in South Africa since 1999. In the Message from Cape Town Series, we shine the spotlight on the African Ajax. In this first edition of the season, coach Maarten Stekelenburg (38) tells his story. The Dutch native has been Ajax Cape Town’s coach since this summer.
A new keeper (Sander Westerveld), a new home stadium, and a new season. For the equally new head coach Maarten Stekelenburg, there are many new things to deal with. Although ‘new’ is relative in his case, since he’s already been active with Ajax Cape Town for two and a half years as head of youth training. Previously, he had worked at de Toekomst with Ajax in Amsterdam for a long time. Last Saturday, his competition debut as head coach ended with a defeat. Visiting Platinum Stars, the number 2 from last season went down 2-0. “We had indeed imagined the start of the competition differently. The defeat was
In contrast to the unfortunate start to the competition, the team had a strong start in the MTN8 cup tournament. Stekelenburg: “In South Africa, we always start the season with a cup tournament featuring the eight best teams from last season. Last weekend we placed for the semi finals. We’ll play Kaizer Chiefs next weekend. The weekend after that will be the return in Cape Town. So in the next weeks, we have a continuous double program ahead, with both competition and cup matches.”
The preparations for his first season as head coach have gone well for the Amsterdam native. Foppe de Haan’s successor has planned the route to the 2011-2012 season meticulously. “It was important in the last little while to get the players fit, and keep them that way. It’s always a balancing act to train them as hard as possible, but stay within reason. We need to build it up so that the players can remain fit for the rest of the season, and not get into a situation where they are overworked.”
The recently acquired Sander Westerveld is still not at Ajax Cape Town’s disposal. The Dutch keeper is still waiting for his work permit to be finalised. Stekelenburg doesn’t expect to be able to use his fellow Dutchman next week. Whether or not Westerveld becomes first keeper in Cape Town is mostly dependent on the 36 year old Westerveld himself. “Of course I have certain expectations from a keeper like Westerveld, but he’ll have to earn a spot on the starting squad. We have two more good keepers here, so it wouldn’t be fair to give Sander an advantage. He needs to show what he can do.”
In addition to a new keeper, Ajax Cape Town also has a new home base this season - the World Cup stadium in Cape Town. “Since the club’s founding in 1999, we’ve played in various stadiums. Last season, Athlon Stadium had sort of become our home, but we couldn’t go there every weekend and needed to find somewhere else sometimes. Thanks to our three year contract with the Cape Town Stadium, we are at least ensured of a steady home base for the upcoming seasons.”
Despite narrowly missing the national title last season, Ajax Cape Town isn’t among the favourites to win the title in South Africa this season. “The Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs are all favourites in the media to win the championship. Everyone expects that one of the ‘Big Three’ will be champion. But Ajax Cape Town is definitely looking to win the national title. Especially after losing out last year to the Pirates on the last day of play. So the feeling with the club and the supporters is that it’s definitely possible, but we are certainly not the favourites.”