After Ajax’s Under-19 side won the NextGen tournament in Amsterdam this week, much is expected from what has been described as a special group of youngsters.
Saturday, however, the Ajax PSL squad finish off with a home game against Wits at Cape Town Stadium (kickoff 3pm) and coach Roger de Sa, with nothing to play for, has confirmed that he will give a few players a run. He is already planning for next season.
With this in mind, De Sa is likely to keep thinking along the lines of youth. So Saturday is an opportunity for him to hand some more big-match experience to 21-year-old goalkeeper Brandon Petersen and 20-year-old midfielder Ziyaad “Ziggy” Eksteen. Both players have struggled with injury over the last 12 months and De Sa wants them in tune and ready to go for the 2016-17 campaign.
Petersen started in the previous match against Maritzburg United (it’s in any case almost certain that regular custodian Anssi Jaakkola will return to Europe next season), while Eksteen played off the bench.
If anything, De Sa is a coach who loves working with youth. He did so effectively at Wits and he has proven to be a perfect fit for the emerging youngsters at Ajax. He is already salivating at the prospect of grooming the U19s who have been so successful during their current European trip.
The U19s beat English club Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the final of the NextGen event. The competition also featured clubs such PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Right to Dream (Ghana), ASA United (Ecuador), Barcelona (Spain) and Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands).
Three of the players in the Ajax U19 squad – Darren Johnson, Sergio Kammies and Masilake Phohlongo – have already been promoted to the PSL side, and De Sa confirmed that four or five more will make the jump next season. Three of them are likely to be U19 skipper Shane Saraline, Achmat Ceres and Leo Thetani, who scored both goals in the final against Tottenham.
The Ajax motto is “no youth, no future” and with the latest young stars blossoming, De Sa certainly has no cause for concern. “It’s always tough going overseas and winning events, so the U19s have obviously done very well,” he said.
“I’ll be honest, I did think about keeping a few back and giving them a run for the last few PSL games, but eventually decided to let them go. That they’ve won is just fantastic.
“The challenge, though, for them will be to keep developing. It’s one thing to go to Europe and play in a tournament where every club is a visitor, and it’s another challenge going to places like Burkina Faso, for example, and having to cope with hostile crowds and tough conditions, and still play to your potential. We’ll see how it goes …”
But before all that kicks into gear next season, the Urban Warriors have a tricky fixture against second-placed Wits this afternoon. The Students have had a magnificent campaign and would love to finish in style and demonstrate why they are among the best on show in the PSL.
For the Ajax youngsters, Wits goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs is an example of how to turn youthful talent into success. The veteran No 1 turned 36 on Thursday but is still one of the most reliable shot-stoppers in the country.
He’s had 19 years at the top and is the most-capped PSL player with more than 450 appearances, with clubs such as Cape Town Spurs, Ajax, Wits and Orlando Pirates. He’s won every honour available – cup competitions, the league title and PSL Goalkeeper of the Season. Nationally, he’s represented the country at U17, U20 and Bafana Bafana level. In short, he’s a living Cape legend.
And as the current crop of Ajax youngsters make their way in the PSL, Josephs is the ideal role model to emulate.
In an interview, he tipped Ajax’s Petersen to be the next leading light on the South African goalkeeping firmament.
Petersen was delighted with the praise, but admitted he still had a long way to go.
“I’ve only just returned from a lengthy injury, and it was great to be back playing again in last week’s game against Maritzburg,” he said. “The coach asked me to keep it simple and now I’m just hoping to keep getting game time next season.
“Moeneeb’s confidence in my ability is a good sign as he was my idol when I was growing up. But I’m not too focused on the future too much, it’s much more important that I focus on the here and now, and getting more starts to grow my experience.”
Saturday’s PSL fixtures (all games at 3pm):
Kaizer Chiefs v Chippa Utd,
University of Pretoria v Golden Arrows,
Orlando Pirates v SuperSport,
Mamelodi Sundowns v Platinum Stars,
Ajax CT v Wits,
Jomo Cosmos v Maritzburg,
Bloem Celtic v Polokwane City,
Black Aces v Free State Stars
Original source: De Sa already planning for next season