"I can assure you that, deep in my heart, I know that we are going to beat Chiefs on Saturday"
Ajax Cape Town coach Muhsin Ertugral (pictured) presented such a relaxed, confident demeanour you wouldn’t say the Cape side is in a rather precarious situation.
Going into Saturday’s final PSL fixture of the season against Kaizer Chiefs at the Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 3pm), only a victory will suffice if the club is to avoid a tricky promotion play-off campaign against First Division sides Jomo Cosmos and Black Leopards.
The wily 58-year-old Turkish coach at the helm of Ajax, in fact, didn’t even entertain any questions on the possibility of the play-offs; as far as he was concerned, the Capetonians would defeat Chiefs on Saturday and stay in the PSL, so there was no need to talk about anything else.
“I can assure you that, deep in my heart, I know that we are going to beat Chiefs on Saturday,” said Ertugral.
Playing at home
The Ajax coach’s confidence stems from the belief he has in his squad, the knowledge he has of the opposition and, importantly, the fact that Ajax are playing at home.
“We have had time to prepare for this vital game against Chiefs,” he said. “It’s the most important game in the history of the club. We have worked on a few elements, especially our strengths, and now it’s also about the mental stuff.
“There are good boys in this squad, they are hardworking and they have improved tremendously over the last few months. When I first came here this season, I brought a friend of mine to watch the training session (a former coach of Turkish club Galatasaray) – afterwards, the first thing he said to me was: ‘on the field, they want to solve the problem alone, they don’t want to solve the problem as a team’. And that is what I have tried to change.
“We are at home and we have something to show. I think we are second-best when it comes to home record this season; it’s just the away games that have been a disaster. But because we are at home, the confidence of the boys is there. Now we have to make sure we understand the right time to go forward and how to block the ball when we lose it. We have to focus on our turnovers and be quick in our transitions.”
Ertugral is a former Chiefs coach, so he knows a bit about how to play against the popular Soweto club. But, with one of his former players – Patrick Mabedi – in charge of the Amakhosi in a caretaker capacity, the Ajax coach admits he has had to change his game plan.
“We’ve looked at the details of Chiefs, their organisation and the patterns they use since Patrick (Mabedi) came in,” said Ertugral. “I’ve been there, and I know how dangerous they can be. They have players who are individually brilliant and they cannot be allowed time and space. But I also know the pressure they feel I would like there to be a good crowd at Cape Town Stadium because it is the type of element that can distract them when they are under pressure.
“As a player, I loved Patrick (Mabedi, Chiefs coach). With the success I had at Chiefs, Patrick was always the cornerstone of my team. He was an explosive player; you could dribble past him, but he would get back again. He was also tactically quite advanced, which is why I believe in his coaching abilities.
“You can see he has already changed the way Chiefs play, in that they now use a back four. He knows how to defend, and he knows how I think. And that is why I have changed the pattern that we will use against Chiefs on Saturday.”
But Ertugral didn’t reveal too much about how Ajax would approach the game against Chiefs, except to say that he was confident they would pull off the win they need. Most importantly, though, he explained why it was critical for the Cape club to retain its PSL status.
“This is not just for Ajax as a club, but also for the city and for South Africa,” said Ertugral. “This club has always been a breeding ground for players, both for the PSL and for Bafana Bafana. So, for the next generation of players, it is important that Ajax stay in the PSL – and I am confident we can do it.”