What started as a beautiful fairytale in 1999 ends in September 2020 as a deception: as of October 1, Ajax will sell its shares (51%) in Ajax Cape Town to the current minority shareholder. Jonathan Ursem, who lived in South Africa for four years, became a fan of the club and the book there Ajax in Africa wrote about, has mixed feelings about it.
It had been a while, of course, but the bullet is now really through the church. What do you think of Ajax’s business decision to quit Ajax Cape Town after 21.5 years?
‘I understand the business considerations. The objective with Ajax Cape Town was not so much to make a profit, but rather to generate football talents. That will eventually translate back into money. In Amsterdam they see at the bottom of the line that Cape Town has delivered four players to Ajax 1. That is not enough. Then Ajax may be able to sell Traoré to Real Madrid for eighty million euros in the future, but then you still have only four players. That’s just not enough. ‘
And to think that Traoré was not even trained at Cape Town, but was parked there by Ajax. Eyong Enoh was not trained there either …
‘That’s right, and Pienaar was scouted in Johannesburg and was then parked by Ajax in Cape Town. If you look at it that way, Serero is the only player who has been trained by Cape Town and made it to Amsterdam. Cape Town has also trained many players for the South African market and many internationals have come from Cape Town. Only: that is of no use to Amsterdam. From a business point of view I understand Amsterdam’s decision, but personally as a fan I think it is a great pity that the name Ajax will disappear from Cape Town.
You say that the name Ajax is going to disappear. Is it already known how the club will continue?
The shares will be transferred to the current minority shareholder by 1 October at the latest. That’s the Efstathiou family, Ari is the club’s CEO. From 1 October it will be his club and then he can do whatever he wants with it. My expectation is that he will remain the owner of the club. He is quite a tough man, I don’t see him selling the club quickly. He’s extremely rich and doesn’t need the money. ‘
A South African journalist says he already knows that the new name of the club will be Cape Town Stars. That is the name of the BV where the shares of Ajax Cape Town are located. It is a contraction of the two clubs that once merged into Ajax Cape Town: Seven Stars and Cape Town Spurs. The name Ajax will disappear forever. I have asked Ajax about it, but a spokesperson for the club does not want to confirm or deny that the name Ajax is disappearing. It would be crazy if they still play in white-red-white. ‘
Earlier this year, a conflict took place at Ajax Cape Town. Hans Vonk had to leave the field and Andries Ulderink also left Cape Town almost immediately. Was that conflict the last straw or would the collaboration otherwise have ended?
‘I think it has speeded up the process. Another moment that was important for the end of the cooperation was the relegation in 2018. In January of this year, Ajax wrote in its half-year figures that the club was engaged in a strategic reorientation of its interest in Cape Town. That is stock language for: we are going to sell the shares. ‘
About two to three weeks later – at the end of January / beginning of February – Vonk was thrown out. He was put on hold twice in a short time by Ari Efstathiou. Ulderink was then in solidarity with Vonk. Especially the way Amsterdam handled it – they could also hit the table with their fist and say: we have 51 percent of the shares and Vonk and Ulderink are not going anywhere – was the breaking point for me. They let it go a bit. They thought: we will quit and we will look for a chic moment to do so. They waited until the season was over. ‘
Before the corona crisis Ajax Cape Town was in good shape, but in the end it did not succeed to become champion or to promote. How could it go so wrong?
At one point they were first with a nine-point lead. Then came the biobubble, as they call it. The last games were played in Johannesburg. I thought at the time: those nine points are not enough with six duels to go. Ajax is used to playing at sea level, but in Johannesburg they played at an altitude of 1700 meters. With the exception of one club, the remaining opponents always played at great heights. And they also hit all the top clubs in the last few games. In the end, they lost many points and did not become champions except for one goal. The playoffs were then also one disaster.’
Suppose the club would have been promoted, would Ajax have continued?
‘I think they would have stopped even then. At the bottom of the line, it has yielded too little. Ajax now leaves through the back door, with promotion Ajax could have left through the front door by also leaving a nice youth academy behind. Now Ajax has left like a thief in the night. ‘
Ultimately we can say that Ajax Cape Town has trained too few players for Amsterdam. Not everything went well in Cape Town, but perhaps more could have been done from Amsterdam?
‘Especially the focus and attention from Amsterdam ultimately failed. It’s pretty stable now, but before that it was always a hassle in the boardroom. There was a constant change of chairmen, trainers and directors. It mainly went wrong until the current management was taken over. A trainer like Co Adriaanse said: I’m just not going to Cape Town, I think it’s a nonsense project. If the head coach faces it with disinterest, it won’t happen to that club. Not all directors have put their weight behind the collaboration. The distance is also far and traveling takes a lot of time, energy and money. If you are also dealing with a club where they fight each other out and the directors give each other wheel clamps in the parking lot, they also think in Amsterdam: never mind. ‘
In recent years, Ajax has increasingly sought cooperation with clubs from other continents. Yet things are very different from Cape Town. Do you think that Ajax will start a collaboration á la Cape Town in the future?
‘I do not think so. Management has already said that Cape Town will be the last name bearer. There will no longer be a satellite club that will be called Ajax. I think it was tried once and it failed. Ajax can now look better in collaborations where they can sell their philosophy or share their knowledge regarding the training of youth players. They will no longer want to be away from the daily worries of a club. Certainly not if the chairman does his own thing there anyway. ‘
Is it known how the fans of Ajax Cape Town think about Ajax’s decision?
‘This month I held a survey among fans of Ajax Cape Town. Those fans were unanimous: they wanted Ajax to get one hundred percent of the shares. That Amsterdam would take over and the current chairman would leave. The opposite has now happened. The fans had a lot of faith in the philosophy from Amsterdam. ‘
Also for you as a fan it is now bales, so you indicated. Will you still follow the club?
‘It will decrease anyway, but I will keep following it. I’m curious which way things will go. It is now eleven days before the start of the competition. The club does not officially have a new name yet, no new kit, no sponsor yet, there is no technical director and there are not enough players. It will be eleven more exciting days. ‘
Bart Veenstra (Twitter: @Bart_Veenstra | e-mail: [email protected])
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