Ertugral ready for Chiefs
Ajax coach ready to take advantage of his ex-team in cup semi
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.
RIDING HIGH: Ace teen striker Thulani Serero of Ajax hopes to build on his sensational PSL form with a follow-on against Kaizer Chiefs.