Ajax need more zeal and in­ten­sity to be­come great again

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS

AS AJAX Cape Town pre­pare for a daunting road trip to tackle Polok­wane City on Satur­day af­ter­noon (3.30pm kick off), they face the same hoary, pre­dictable chal­lenges.

When Roger de Sa was coach, he reg­u­larly lamented the team’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble ac­qui­es­cence dur­ing key mo­ments in a game. Another of the for­mer coach’s con­stant gripes was the team’s in­abil­ity to con­vert promis­ing po­si­tions into goals.

Af­ter De Sa departed and Stanley Menzo stepped in, there was grad­ual im­prove­ment, so much so that Ajax won five of their last six games last year. Now, just two games into the sec­ond half of the PSL sea­son, the Cape side have lost 5-0 to Wits and 2-0 to neigh­bours Cape Town City.

Based on the de­feats, it’s abun­dantly ev­i­dent that the same prob­lems that be­sieged Ajax dur­ing De Sa’s days have now resur­faced. Here we look at the ar­eas of con­cern that re­quire Menzo’s at­ten­tion.

SILLY ER­RORS

Be it De Sa or Menzo as coach, Ajax have reg­u­larly been prone to some naive blun­ders. They dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion, ev­ery­thing looks com­fort­able, they look to be in con­trol, and then they spoil all the good work by reck­lessly giv­ing the ball away. The op­po­si­tion glee­fully ac­cepts the gift, nips in and scores, and Ajax are on the back foot, from which they never re­cover. If they are to return to win­ning form, then this is a dis­ci­pline Ajax are go­ing to have to im­prove upon – and quickly, too.

LACK OF RE­SOLVE

This has been a per­sis­tent re­frain from Menzo – as it was with De Sa be­fore him – that pos­ses­sion means noth­ing if the team can­not create and score goals. When­ever Ajax play, in­vari­ably they hog the ball for most of the 90 min­utes, but they just can’t find any con­sis­tency with re­gards to putting the ball into the net. In Menzo’s own words: “Keep­ing the ball for a long time won’t make you win games. Out of pos­ses­sion, you have to create chances and score goals.” It’s a sphere of the game where Ajax, at this stage, just seem to lack the de­ci­sive­ness re­quired. Menzo, af­ter los­ing to City in the Cape derby, spoke highly of how clin­i­cal the op­po­si­tion were in at­tack. He high­lighted City’s abil­ity to take ad­van­tage of “key mo­ments” in the game. It’s per­haps time for Ajax to take leaf out of the noisy neigh­bour’s book. The one thing Menzo said, that was miss­ing from the Ajax play­ers this year, was “fire” – re­fer­ring to pas­sion, com­mit­ment, de­ter­mi­na­tion, de­sire, hunger and courage. To get things go­ing again, the play­ers need to re-dis­cover the vigour, pas­sion and emo­tion that drive teams to vic­tory. In fair­ness to Ajax’s poor start to the year, they have added a few new faces to the squad. There will be a pe­riod of adap­ta­tion as the new play­ers fit into the squad. Two of the new­bies are Zam­bian – Ro­drick Kabwe and Aubrey Funga – and, with the duo in a new coun­try, a new league and new sur­round­ings, a lit­tle pa­tience, is needed. But, with Ajax in 11th po­si­tion on the PSL log with 18 points – only six more than the near­est rel­e­ga­tion can­di­date – there’s no room for er­ror. The adap­ta­tion will have to be quick, or else.

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