‘No more makeshift matches’

‘No more makeshift matches’

Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town in South Africa since 1999. In the ‘Message from Cape Town’ column, we regularly feature the African Ajax team. In this edition, we take a look at the long football break, which lasts from December 21st until February 13th, in Cape Town.

While in the Netherlands, the heads of regional ice clubs were meeting daily to determine whether or not a race on natural ice could be organized, it’s full summer in Cape Town. At 28 degrees Celsius, training in the morning is no hardship, and, until February 13, it’ll be training only for Ajax Cape Town. The reason for the long break is that this year, the Africa Cup is being held in South Africa. ‘Africa’s European Championships’ isn’t really that prominent in Cape Town. None of the Ajax Cape Town players are participating, and no games are being played in Cape Town. “On one hand it’s a shame that Ajax Cape Town doesn’t have any players in the Africa Cup, because that’s good for the club”, says coach Jan Pruijn. But on the other hand, Pruijn has his entire steady team at his disposal to work in properly in preparation for the second half of the season.

Of course, the African Ajax players had some time off around the December holidays. But it wasn’t much. “They had 15 days off”, says Pruijn. “There could have been three additional days had we won more points in the first half of the season. But we ended up with fewer points than we had all previously agreed on; so we resumed on January 5th. It’s a long time to have to prepare without having any real checkpoints to see where you stand. Fortunately, we’ll have two good practice matches against European opponents like Grasshoppers Zurich. It’s happened in the past that we sometimes had to play makeshift matches. But now, we have good opponents. Moreover, we train once a day in the morning at 10a.m., and we have an afternoon training twice a week in addition to that. That training consists mostly of strength exercises.”

Pruijn took over from Maarten Stekelenburg as head coach in October 2012. In theory he’ll stay on this season as interim head coach. “After the winter break, we’ll play three competition matches in six days, of which two are at home. I think that my position is somewhat dependent on how we do in that first series of matches. Not that it’s hanging over my head like a sword, because if I’m not successful at getting the team back on track – and there’s a better coach available – then I’ll be the first to say that I’ll step aside.”

Ajax Cape Town isn’t expected to continue to languish in the bottom half of the PSL league. Pruijn: “We’re only six points down on being in the top 8. That’s why the first matches once the season resumes are so critical. As a club, we’ve set a goal for ourselves to be in the top eight. If all goes to plan, we’ll be getting two or three reinforcements as well. We’ve almost closed a deal with a centre forward (Khenyeza) who played with us for a few years, during which he had his most productive season ever. He’s now 30 years old and can be important for us with his routine.”
Pruijn continues: “We lacked goals in the first half of the season and we hope that he’ll be able to score for us. Otherwise, we didn’t play badly. So in the second part of the season we don’t necessarily need to play better, but we need to be more efficient. We need to convert our opportunities and not give goals away as easily as we did before the summer break. That was partly due to lack of concentration. We’ve analyzed everything, and we know what caused it; it’s purely due to our own weaknesses that we’re ranked so low, not due to one of our opponents totally outplaying us in a game.”

Time will tell between February 13th to 22nd, a period during which Ajax Cape Town will play three competition matches and one Nedbank Cup match. “There won’t be any more room for excuses. If we can win six points in those three competition games that will be a boost for the remaining eleven matches”, hopes Pruijn.