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 the eighth edition of this season, we feature the first team’s selection procedure, one that gave coach Maarten Stekelenburg a ‘positive headache’ beforehand.
The fact that a match selection consists of ‘only’ eighteen men, and that from those, you can only have eleven in the basis, means that the coach must leave out a number of players each time. And that’s not always easy, confesses Ajax Cape Town coach Maarten Stekelenburg last Thursday on Ajax Cape Town’s official website.
On Sunday, his team visited Bloemfontein Celtic at the Free State Stadium. “My players give one hundred and ten per cent at each practice”, says Stekelenburg, explaining his difficult formation assignment. “Moreover, they’re more than capable of playing in the PSL League (the South African Eredivisie)”, continues Stekelenburg. “Some are close to being in the basis, like Thato Mokeke and Nhlanhla Vilakazi. And there are other players in the same situation. But the season is long and everyone will get a chance.”
“It’s tough to choose when everyone gives everything they’ve got during training. Every player is fighting for a spot on the basis. Every player knows that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be in the basis. That’s our story this season.” So Stekelenburg is faced with a puzzle each time, thanks to the many options he has. “It’s a good headache to have.”
Stekelenburg clearly solved the puzzle this week, and on Sunday, he started Dutchman Koen van der Laak, among others. The former professional, from FC Groningen among others, seemed poised to lead the group to success when he found Khame Billiat in the tenth minute. Billiat, who spent several internship days in Amsterdam last season, shot just wide and soon after, it was Bradley Grobler who almost made good. The young Mokeke, who was celebrated as ‘Rookie of the Year’ at the end of last season, came in to substitute early on as Jenniker got injured. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction for Ajax Cape Town when Granwald Scott scored before the break, 0-1.
With a lucky break, Celtic was able to even the score when the ball bounced off the crossbar, and fifteen minutes before time, the home team scored the winning goal. Ajax Cape Town didn’t manage to score a tying goal in the closing minutes, with the biggest opportunity being Booth’s shot onto the crossbar. Stekelenburg’s team currently has four points in four games. And, just like Ajax Amsterdam, the team is down four points on leader Maritzburg, but in contrast to big brother’s third place, Cape Town is in eleventh place.