/ 24 January 2012

New Ajax coach satisfied with maiden season

Ajax Cape Town coach Maarten Stekelenburg is satisfied with the first half of his maiden season in charge of a senior professional team.

“I feel that we’ve had a good start,” Stekelenburg said after his team’s training session at a week-long camp in Daveyton on Monday.

“We struggled a little as well but I feel we got the start we wanted.”

Stekelenburg (39) is one of the youngest coaches on the Premier Soccer League (PSL) circuit.

After spending years coaching in the Ajax Amsterdam youth set-up, and later in the Cape outfit’s development programme, he was tasked with leading the club at the start of the campaign, signing a five-year deal.

Stekelenburg had big boots to fill, replacing fellow Dutch native Foppe de Haan, whose side narrowly missed out on league honours last season when they finished second behind Orlando Pirates on goal difference.

“I have a fantastic group of players around me and youngsters that are learning on a daily basis,” Stekelenburg said.

Leadership role
“But I’ve always been in a competitive environment, working with the Ajax Amsterdam youth set-up.

“I feel that if there was any pressure, it was more media attention but I have always had the support from the club.”

The Urban Warriors settled in seventh in the standings ahead of the lengthy mid-season break, with 24 points after 15 games, after losing key players from last year’s near-championship winning squad.

Thulani Serero signed with the franchise’s mother club in Amsterdam while veteran goalkeeper Hans Vonk retired and defender Clayton Daniels moved to big spending Mamelodi Sundowns.

Nonetheless, captain and midfield strongman Granwald Scott — who inherited the leadership role from Daniels — felt this season’s squad was more complete than the one from the previous campaign.

“Last year, if we missed a player, we struggled,” Scott said.

“The guys used to tell me that they missed me when I was out injured.

‘Strong challenge’
“We just seem to have more depth this year, and I’m quite confident that we can pose a strong challenge for the league and the Nedbank Cup, to get some silverware.”

The Urban Warriors have promising youngsters in Lebogang Manyama and the mercurial but effective Zimbabwean pace pairing of Tafadwza Rusike and Khama Billiat.

Importantly, striker Thembinkosi Fanteni has shown maturity as the key net-finder for the side.

“I think we started off well this season when people expected us to struggle,” Scott said, “especially with young players and a new coach who was also new to coaching at senior level.”

Stekelenburg said Ajax would look to beef up their squad this year, especially up front as they looked for an out-and-out understudy for Fanteni.

“We will sign two players from our development side,” he said.

“We won’t just buy any player but I’m looking for a striker because if Fanteni is not there, we struggle and have to play [midfielder] Brent Carelse up front.

“At the moment we have a Nigerian striker on trial but we will wait and see.” — Sapa