‘Steek’ against ‘Nees’

‘Steek’ against ‘Nees’

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 fifth issue of this season, coach Maarten Stekelenburg looks back on a week in which he finally defeated Kaiser Chiefs, and came face to face with fellow countryman Johan Neeskens.

Maarten Stekelenburg was in Johannesburg on Sunday afternoon, facing former Ajax man Johan Neeskens, who is coaching the Mamelodi Sundowns in Johannesburg as of this season. Ajax Cape Town’s coach boarded the flight confidently; his team had defeated Kaiser Chiefs earlier in the week. “It was a great result”, says Stekelenburg, looking back at the 2-1 win against Kaiser Chiefs last Wednesday. “But I had expected more from it, personally. I didn’t feel that we dominated enough. I enjoy having a grip on a match, controlling it. But although we weren’t dominant, we took advantage of the opportunities we had. Most of all, we had luck on our side.”
The Ajax man had nothing to complain about regarding the away match hosted by his fellow countryman Neeskens. “I had already seen Sundowns, and they are a good attacking team, but they’re vulnerable on defence. That’s why I emphasized that we needed to play an offensive game. That didn’t happen during the first half. We were playing too often in our weak spot; I try to emphasize with my players that our strength is in the attack. I repeated that during the break, when we were down 1-0. I literally said: ‘I’d rather lose 5-0 than stay at 1-0.’ Something had to happen. And we started to play in the second half. I had also swapped a midfielder for a forward, so we had to go forward. That’s when I saw Ajax football: pressure to the front, find solutions while playing football, and we took the lead, 2-1. The Sundowns scored again, but we had the fortune of scoring in extra time.”

So it was Neeskens who offered congratulations to Stekelenburg. The two coaches are currently the only two Dutch natives who are active in the South African competition. Ruud Krol, another famous Ajax man, was with the Orlando Pirates last year, but he left the club last summer. “The journalists made a lot of the fact that two Dutch coaches were going to face each other. We knew each other, we’ve met before at the Toekomst in Amsterdam, and we’d spoken at the MTN8 draw, which was the cup tournament at the beginning of the season. It was special to play against a Dutch coach. The Dutch influence was clear in their play. They also play distinctively Dutch football with three forwards.”

The two Dutch coaches won’t meet again until the competition’s second half. It may happen earlier, but that depends on the draw for the cup tournament. Next week Friday, Ajax Cape Town meets Free State Stars.