Ajax has had a majority stake in Ajax Cape Town since 1999. In our Message from Cape Town column, we feature the African Ajax team every Monday. In the seventh issue of this season, Corné Groenendijk, head of youth development, looks back at the recently held Talent Days trials.
Ajax Cape Town held its third Talent Days last weekend. Head of youth development Corné Groenendijk was surprised at the number of kids who had travelled far and wide to the Ikamva training complex, in the hopes of becoming an Urban Warrior, which is Ajax Cape Town’s nickname. “Africans often don’t arrive on time, but when I arrived at Ikamva at seven a.m. on Saturday, the place was crowded with players. There were even more than I had anticipated.”
In total, about one thousand young football hopefuls between the ages of eleven and fifteen reported to Ajax Cape Town, hoping to show what they can do. “It’s different than in the Netherlands”, says Groenendijk, speaking from experience. “In the Netherlands, everything goes through clubs, and you know most of the young players. Or you call a club and get a list of players. In Cape Town, they come from everywhere, including footballers without clubs. There is also 27 Local Football Associations which has its own competition; that doesn’t make it easier. There’s no organization overseeing everything. We’ll know some of the guys who show up at the Open Trial through their club, but some of the players who come aren’t known to us, and we see that they are really good players.”
On Saturday, players from 1998, 1999 and 2000 came the – for African standards – ultra modern facility in Cape Town. On Sunday, it was the older players, from 1996 and 1997 who came. Under the watchful eye of youth trainers and scouts, they showed their stuff. Parents were asked to keep as far away as possible. Groenendijk: “There’s a lot of pressure on the kids. They get sent here with the assignment to ‘save the family’. If you’re with Ajax Cape Town’s program, you’ve got it made, at least that’s what people think.”
Last weekend’s Talent Days were the third and last ones for this year. In February, July, and October, kids came to Imkava looking for a football break. But kids also get selected in the First Touch program, and, together with the chosen kids from the Talent Days, they’ll vie for a spot in the youth development program. “We’ve selected a total of 35 kids who are competing for sixteen available spots in the under 12 team. We don’t take them younger than that. We feel that you can only see how good they are starting at that age.”
The Talent Days bring new players in for the other teams too. “We evaluated all of the teams beforehand. So we know exactly which positions we need players for. Fifty kids selected from last weekend’s Open Trials will come to practice with us twice this week. For us, that’s when we’ll really get to see if they’re good enough to play with us.”
And if that’s the case, entire families become proud as peacocks. Thanks to Ajax Cape Town’s success last season in the competition, the club can know count itself among the leading clubs from Johannesburg. “Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns and the Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV of South Africa. If we play a home game against Chiefs, it will be sold out, but ninety per cent of the crowd will be Kaizer Chief fans. It’s slowly starting to change a little bit”, says Groenendijk, who experiences this daily. “People from Cape Town say they are for Chiefs, but that Ajax Cape Town is their second team.”