Er­tu­gral ready for Chiefs

Ajax coach ready to take ad­van­tage of his ex-team in cup semi

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS

THE Ajax Cape Town foot­ball phi­los­o­phy is founded on suc­cess­ful youth de­vel­op­ment. Muhsin Er­tu­gral has ce­mented a re­spected rep­u­ta­tion as a coach who ruth­lessly im­ple­ments a strat­egy that fast-tracks tal­ented young play­ers onto the PSL stage.

So, Ajax and Er­tu­gral, it would ap­pear, are a per­fect fit.

As Ajax head into an MTN8 first leg semi-fi­nal tie with Kaizer Chiefs at New­lands this evening (kick off 8.15pm), the Cape side’s two emerg­ing young stars – Thu­lani Serero and Thu­lani Hlatswayo – are set to play a cru­cial role.

Serero, just 19, an at­tack­ing foot­baller with flair and en­ergy, was given his PSL chance to­wards the end of last sea­son by for­mer Ajax coach Craig Rosslee, and the teenager has con­tin­ued his progress un­der Er­tu­gral this sea­son.

In the open­ing game of the sea­son – the MTN8 quar­ter-fi­nal against Pi­rates, which Ajax won 2-1 – Serero was sen­sa­tional. He scored one of the goals, while his fan­tas­tic over­all per­for­mance earned him the man-of-the­match award.

But for that game, Ajax were in trou­ble in cen­tral de­fence as Brazil­ian de­fender Ed­uardo Fer­reira was at log­ger­heads with club man­age­ment over the struc­ture of his trans­fer deal to Mamelodi Sun­downs.

But Er­tu­gral never pan­icked... he plucked 20-year-old de­fender Hlatswayo from the Ajax re­serve team, and threw him into the caul­dron of a big match against Pi­rates.

The young­ster rose to the oc­ca­sion and looks to have se­cured a reg­u­lar spot in the start­ing team.

This is how Er­tu­gral goes about his coach­ing busi­ness. He is not afraid to take risks with young play­ers. And they, in turn, re­pay the coach’s faith by play­ing to the best of their abil­ity.

“The youngsters in the Ajax team are thriv­ing and they will get even bet­ter as the sea­son pro­gresses,” said Er­tu­gral. “You can see how Thu­lani Serero is mes­meris­ing de­fend­ers at the mo­ment.”

Serero was happy with his per­for­mances so far, but had his feet placed firmly on the ground, ad­mit­ting that he was still learn­ing and had a long way to go.

“It’s im­por­tant just to re­main men­tally strong and take it from there,” said Serero. “You can see from the easy goal that I missed against Pi­rates (in the 1-0 league de­feat last week) that you are only as good as your last game.

“The miss was a bad one and prob­a­bly af­fected my game af­ter that.

“But I’ve now put that be­hind me and I’m con­fi­dent of get­ting back into gear against Chiefs to­day.”

In terms of squad news, Ajax still have long term in­juries to goal­keeper Sean Roberts, de­fend­ers Nazier Al­lie and Mario Booy­sen, mid­fielder Gran­wald Scott, and striker Stan­ton Lewis. Er­tu­gral also re­vealed that right wing Sameehg Doutie had gone down with ton­sili­tis.

Nev­er­the­less, Er­tu­gral was con­fi­dent that his team would be able to craft a winning per­for­mance against Chiefs.

As a for­mer Chiefs coach, Er­tu­gral cer­tainly knows who how to pre­pare teams to play the Amakhosi.

“I have an­a­lysed what I knew of the Chiefs when I was coach­ing there and what I have seen of them so far this sea­son,” said Er­tu­gral.

“I know what to do against them. They like to play when they have the ball, but have very lit­tle shape, or­gan­i­sa­tion and pat­tern when they have to de­fend. It is here where we can take ad­van­tage.

“With it be­ing a two-leg semi­fi­nal, it’s im­por­tant that we do not con­cede a goal. In fact, I would be happy with a 0-0 draw as we have shown (in the MTN8 2-1 quar­ter-fi­nal win over Pi­rates) that we can score goals on the road.

“But we ob­vi­ously won’t go into the game with a 0-0 at­ti­tude... we will try to score and play at­tack­ing foot­ball, but we will be mak­ing sure that they do not catch us on the break and score an away goal.”

Er­tu­gral’s re­place­ment at Chiefs, Serb Vladimir Ver­me­zovic, was looking for­ward to to­day’s en­counter, not only be­cause he was tak­ing on the pre­vi­ous Chiefs in­cum­bent, but also be­cause he wants to es­tab­lish him­self as a coach of qual­ity.

“It is im­por­tant that we score a goal in the away leg,” Ver­me­zovic said at a press brief­ing this week.

“It is dif­fi­cult to play the sec­ond leg if you are on zero. The way I coach is that in ev­ery game my team plays to win... and against Ajax it will be no dif­fer­ent. We will be out there bat­tling for the victory.

“I watched Ajax’s re­cent two games against Pi­rates and I was im­pressed with what I saw. They are a team with a lot of speed and they put a lot of pres­sure on op­po­nents’ de­fend­ers. But we are go­ing to make our plans. We will be ready for them.”

To­mor­row’s other semi-fi­nal will see two South African born young coaches – AmaZulu’s Neil Tovey and Golden Ar­rows’s Man­qoba Mngqithi square off in an­other MTN8 first leg semi-fi­nal at Chatsworth Sta­dium at 3pm,

Both Tovey and Mngqithi would want some sil­ver­ware to make their pres­ence felt on the coach­ing scene.

For Tovey winning the tour­na­ment will be a great feat to com­ple­ment the plethora of tro­phies he won as a player in his hey­day.

The erst­while Bafana Bafana cap­tain has tasted glory as a joint coach with Miguel Ga­mondi when they guided Mamelodi Sun­downs to PSL glory in 2006 but Tovey will want his own shine this time around.

Tovey has as­sem­bled a re­silient team that elim­i­nated league cham­pi­ons Su­perS­port United out the top eight tour­na­ment.

The for­mer Chiefs skip­per’s side could pose se­ri­ous threat for Ar­rows, who are yet to win sil­ver­ware since their ar­rival in the PSL. Mn­quithi yearns to be the first Ar­rows coach to lead Abafana BeS­thende to their first tro­phy in topflight foot­ball. Ar­rows have been hailed for play­ing the most at­trac­tive foot­ball, while oth­ers com­pare the side with Arse­nal for dis­play­ing beau­ti­ful foot­ball with no sil­ver­ware and Mn­quithi and his charges will want to get rid of the mock­ery.

Just like the Chiefs-Ajax duel, the KwaZulu Natal derby is set for ex­plo­sive dis­plays as the race to get sil­ver­ware takes an­other leap tonight and to­mor­row.

GALLO IM­AGES

RID­ING HIGH: Ace teen striker Thu­lani Serero of Ajax hopes to build on his sen­sa­tional PSL form with a fol­low-on against Kaizer Chiefs.

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