Quick visit to South Africa

Quick visit to South Africa

Rik van den Boog and Henri van der Aat were in South Africa on behalf of Ajax on Tuesday for the semi annual board meeting with the shareholders of Ajax Cape Town. The Ajax management also had discussions with people who are working in the organisation on a daily basis. Now, back in Amsterdam, General Manager Rik van den Boog gives an account.

“I’m probably going to crash during the second half”, predicted Rik van den Boog on Wednesday, a few hours before the Ajax – Roda JC kick off. Ajax’s General Manager had returned from South Africa earlier in the day, where, together with Commercial Director Henri van der Aat, he had paid a quick visit to Ajax Cape Town.

The Ajax directors arrived in Cape Town after travelling during Monday night, and spent all day Tuesday in meetings. Van den Boog: “We started the review meetings at 8am. During the day, we went through each functional area of Ajax Cape Town with George Comitis (CEO of Ajax Cape Town). We also spent one and a half hours talking with Foppe de Haan and Jan Pruyn. From his point of view as head coach, Foppe gave us a perspective of football in South Africa. In the last few months, he’s come to realise that football there is much different than in the Netherlands. For example, he noticed a significant lag in physical fitness there, compared to Europe. And that’s an important point, specifically if we want to bring players from there to Amsterdam. Now, Foppe’s approach is mostly geared towards increasing the intensity of the trainings.”

Sport performance wise, the club, in which Ajax has a 51% stake, is experiencing a tough season. After 25 rounds of play, Ajax Cape Town is in sixth place in the Premier Soccer League. “The results are disappointing”, confirms Van den Boog. “Of the 15 duels that have taken place under Foppe’s lead, only five have been wins. Especially the three losses before the summer stop have taken their toll. Because of these losses, the top is now out of reach.” Ajax Cape Town is down 11 points on leader SuperSport seven rounds before the end.

Under Van den Boog and Van der Aat’s watchful eye, Ajax Cape Town posted their fifth win of the season on Tuesday night. They defeated the Platinum Stars 2-0 in the Athlone Stadium. “I was disappointed by the football. It wasn’t very structured or daring, but considering the big picture, the win was very welcome. Keeper Hans Vonk was especially good.”

During eleven years of partnership with its sister club, Ajax has paid special attention to the youth development program in Cape Town. For the last year, Maarten Stekelenburg, previously youth coach at the Toekomst, has been in charge of youth development at Ajax Cape Town. “I am very impressed with him. Maarten is doing a great job setting up the youth development program in Cape Town. There are five youth teams (under 19, 17, 15, 13 and 11), and he temporarily has taken the under 19 team under his charge. With Ajax Cape Town, we want to invest in the quality of the coaches in the training.”

By continuing to develop and professionalize the youth development program, and regional scouting, the gap with Europe (Amsterdam) should get smaller. “According to Maarten, there are about three players in the under 19 team who could play with Ajax Cape Town’s first team. That says enough. The next step is for him and the head coach to assess which players have the potential to make it to Ajax 1. These players could then come to the Netherlands for a training internship. Just like Ajax Cape Town, we also want to get closer to the youth development in Cape Town. There needs to be an exchange of information between the coaches, and the developments that are currently in process at the Toekomst need to be shared in South Africa.”

Also on the agenda was a move to a new stadium. “The government would like for us to play in Green Point Stadium. But the World Cup stadium is too big for Ajax Cape Town, especially if you consider that a ticket to see a game only costs twenty rand. That converts to roughly 2 euro. The Athlone Stadium doesn’t look great, and the stadium in Philippa Township isn’t an option, due to safety concerns. But a decision will need to be made.”

Besides being able to see the positive developments within the South African youth program, the long Tuesday in Cape Town also resulted in two important conclusions for the Ajax directors. “The club’s business side is running smoothly, they have good financial results. But right now, they’re not delivering the players that we need. We are missing players in a few positions at Ajax 1, but we can’t get these players at Ajax Cape Town right now. And really, that’s the whole point. That’s why continuing to develop the partnership on a more intensive basis is a very good possibility. Take a look at Eyong Enoh. If we could bring a player like him to Amsterdam every year, it would be fantastic.”