Ajax Cape Town’s historic 1-0 victory over giants Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8 Cup final three weeks ago did not simply happen in a vacuum.
Unlike the manna that dropped from the sky to cure the Israelites’ hunger in the wilderness, this miracle was the result of proper planning and came about thanks to what has been happening at the club’s Ikamva (isiXhosa for future) Training Grounds.
This is where their development programme, which has churned out a great number of talented players, is based.
“About two-thirds of the players in the current squad are products of our development programme at Ikamva,” coach Roger De Sá tells me as we chew the cud at the splendid Cape Town Stadium that was built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“I’m a great believer in young players.”
Having been with the club for one and a half years, it does seem that De Sá is a perfect fit, as Ajax’s philosophy has been all about development since it came into being in 1999 after the merger between Seven Stars and Cape Town Spurs.
That deal saw Ajax Amsterdam become a major shareholder, and thus the club adopted the mother company’s tried-and-tested philosophy of relying heavily on youth.
Unlike Turkish mentor Muhsin Ertugral, who called the players his “chickens” during his tenure, De Sá calls them “my younger brothers and friends”.
“I always coach players the way I wanted to be coached. I am firm, honest and don’t allow emotions to take over or politics to interfere.
“But honesty is the best of all the above for me,” adds the coach.
“I have a very good relationship with the players. I’m like their older brother. I’m a bit older, but not too old,” he emphasises.
“I get as close to them as I can, but always make sure I give them as much respect as I expect in return.”
The spirit of camaraderie that exists among the players and technical staff is evident.
In answering what makes the team work, 22-year-old defender Abbubaker Mobara points at his coach in the distance: “You see that man? He is the one who makes this team tick. He is more than a coach, but a friend to all of us. He helps us as a team and even individually.”
This vein comes through from every player we speak to.
So young is the Ajax team that the players refer to the 33-year-old striker Nathan Paulse as “Uncle”.
“I don’t mind them calling me that,” he says.
“I know I am a madala at this club, but I enjoy the responsibility of being an elder statesman. I relate well to the younger players because I also started here as a young player. I have a good relationship with them.
In contrast, at 18, international defender Rivaldo Coetzee is one of the youngest players in the squad.
The “Mayor of Kakamas”, as his team-mates call him, caused waves when he became the youngest Bafana Bafana debutant against Congo-Brazzaville last October 12, aged 17 years and 361 days.
This led to Safa president Danny Jordaan quipping: “Our search for talent is now working properly and, as a result, we have the first player from Kakamas in Bafana Bafana.”
Kakamas is a small Northern Cape town of 4.55km2, with a population of 9 538. It was founded in 1898 as Bassonsdrift and only became a municipality in 1954.
“I played football for my primary school before joining local amateur side Kakamas Sundowns,” he reveals.
“Ajax turned me down three times at trials. It was only after they saw me play for the national Under-17 team that they came for me and gave me a contract.”
Coetzee seems to have a good head on his young shoulders.
He had this advice for team-mates: “We must not get carried away by our success in the MTN8 Cup but go for other cups as well.”
The MTN8 was the club’s fourth trophy.
With this achievement under its belt, a close penalty shoot-out loss to Sundowns in the Nedbank Cup final in May and currently occupying position seven, a mere four points behind leaders Platinum Stars, the sky appears to be the limit for De Sá and his younger brothers and friends.