Ajax remain fully committed to their philosophy of ‘no youth, no future’, but, sometimes, especially in times of struggle, they have to walk a fine line between the needs of the team and the education of the youngsters.
As always, and this too is policy with Ajax, education comes first. And so, as Ajax head into tonight’s PSL fixture against Wits at the Cape Town Stadium (7.30pm kick-off), this is the situation facing the Cape club’s head coach Roger de Sa. With Ajax yet to win a game this season, and the team desperate for something fresh, De Sa would love to blood a few of the highly promising teenagers recently promoted from the club’s youth academy. Unfortunately, with school exams either in progress or coming up soon, the coach has to take their educational programme into consideration before deciding on whether they are ready to play.
Having weighed up the issue, De Sa has however, confirmed that 19-year-old Luthando Mateza will soon be introduced. The left-footer from Gugulethu was in the squad for the Telkom Knockout opening round defeat to SuperSport United at the weekend. He wasn’t used though, as De Sa felt the game situation at the time, together with the inclement weather conditions, wasn’t the ideal time to play the youngster.
But Mateza is again in the squad for tonight’s Wits game – and, depending on how the game unfolds, it’s highly likely that he’ll make his PSL debut.
“Mateza is knocking hard at the selection door,” said De Sa. “He’s got great qualities, he’s stepped up his game, worked much harder, and he’s defending a lot more. He’s been one of the best players in the Reserve Team and I think, once he gets an opportunity, he’ll grab it. He’s a player I believe will make a difference in the team in time to come.”
Mateza was a prominent member of the Ajax Under-19 team that won the ESAD and NextGen tournaments in the Netherlands earlier this year. At the Cape club, he has long been rated as a player with the potential to go all the way in the sport. Now that he is maturing, and improving the weak areas of his game, like the defensive side of things, the midfielder is ready for the step up.
“I was really happy to be in the squad for the Cup game against SuperSport last weekend,” said Mateza. “It was my first trip with the PSL squad and it meant that my hard work had been noticed.
“To be honest, when I was promoted to the PSL squad this year, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it had happened so quickly. But I got down to work, I adapted to the system and I have to say the older players in the team have been really good. They welcomed me, are always encouraging, and pointing out what I need to do to improve even more.”
Ajax are without Toriq Losper, Nathan Paulse and Lebohang Mokoena. Paulse has already had an operation to repair a fractured cheek bone, while Losper is scheduled to undergo surgery sometime this week. The trio are expected to be out for quite a while. And their absence, needless to say, opens up the opportunity for others to step in, show what they can do, and stake a claim for a position in the team. Mateza is among those hopefuls.
“If I get a chance to play, then I’ll give my best,” he said. “I’ll try to create openings for the players around me, and also try to score if an opportunity comes my way.
“But, importantly, I think the game against Wits will be the turning point for Ajax. We need to start winning, and I believe we will win this one.”