Menzo’s Ajax seal top duo deal

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REIN­ERS

AJAX Cape Town take a mood of op­ti­mism into the sec­ond half of the PSL sea­son.

In Oc­to­ber last year, they were mired to­wards the base­ment of the standings and strug­gling to win a foot­ball game.

Fast-for­ward a few months and Ajax are in a com­fort­able ninth po­si­tion on the PSL log, hav­ing ac­cu­mu­lated 18 points, and en­joy­ing a new­found sense of be­lief in their abil­ity as a unit.

The Capeto­ni­ans swing back into ac­tion on Fe­bru­ary 7 when they are away to sec­ond­placed Wits in Joburg.

The cat­a­lyst for the club’s re­vival has, un­doubt­edly, been the ap­point­ment of for­mer Ajax Am­s­ter­dam and Nether­lands goal­keeper Stan­ley Menzo as the new coach.

“There was no change in the play­ing staff, just the coach­ing de­part­ment, and that has made all the dif­fer­ence,” said Ajax chief ex­ec­u­tive Ari Ef­s­tathiou as he con­tem­plated the sec­ond half of the sea­son. “Es­sen­tially, we’ve gone back to our roots, and are do­ing things the Ajax way. If you re­mem­ber when Foppe de Haan (for­mer Ajax men­tor and a Dutch coach re­spected all over the world) was here, it’s sim­i­lar to that un­der Menzo. It’s not just about dis­ci­pline, in that no­body steps out of line, but it’s also that Menzo is a teach­ing coach, and that’s a great help de­vel­op­ing and nur­tur­ing play­ers.

“Go­ing back to the Ajax phi­los­o­phy is also key to the change in the team be­cause there are 17 academy play­ers in the PSL squad. They are brought up in the Ajax way and it has been easy for them to ad­just to what Menzo wants. They know what’s ex­pected and it has been a very pos­i­tive change un­der the new coach.”

Ef­s­tathiou, though, is the first to ad­mit that there’s still a long way to go. While Ajax have shown vast im­prove­ment un­der Menzo, the chal­lenge now is to build on the team’s re­cov­ery and plot a surge fur­ther up the PSL ta­ble. Two new play­ers have come in, de­fender Rheece Evans and Zam­bian mid­fielder Ro­drick Kabwe, and Ajax are con­fi­dent the duo will make a big con­tri­bu­tion to the team dur­ing the sec­ond half of the cam­paign.

“Ob­vi­ously, the first ob­jec­tive is to get to 30 points, which takes away any threat of rel­e­ga­tion,” said Ef­s­tathiou. “Once that has been achieved, then we can fo­cus on a top eight po­si­tion. Af­ter that, if it’s go­ing well, we’ll see …

“We’ve got Kabwe in and we are ex­pect­ing a lot from the Zam­bian in­ter­na­tional, while Evans will steady the de­fence,” added Ef­s­tathiou. “We are still in the mar­ket for one or two more play­ers, but we’ll as­sess what’s avail­able and de­cide ac­cord­ingly.”

As for the ele­phant in the room, Ef­s­tathiou re­mained as tight-lipped as ever.

The PSL ru­mour mill has been abuzz re­cently – es­pe­cially be­cause of for­mer Ajax mid­fielder Keagan Dolly’s im­mi­nent trans­fer to Mont­pel­lier – with sug­ges­tions that star cen­tral de­fender Ri­valdo Coetzee could be in line for a move over­seas as well.

Dolly is ex­pected to sign with the French club later this week – but, while there has been end­less spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing Coetzee, when Ef­s­tathiou was asked, his only re­sponse was: “No com­ment.”

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