Despite being ‘one of their own’, a former head of youth and schooled the Amsterdam way, three wins from 14 games this season, and sitting second-from-bottom on the log, had alarm bells seriously ringing, as the coach and club decided to go their separate ways.
Despite being likeable, calm and composed in media interviews, and despite his wealth of experience as a Netherlands and Ajax stalwart, his position at the helm of the Urban Warriors was never a match made in heaven, and this is why:
In the deep end
Menzo took over from Roger de Sa in October 2016, with the latter failing to register a win in his first seven games of the 2016/17 campaign. The club was in a precarious position, with Menzo thrown in the deep end in trying to turn their fortunes around.
Five wins in his first eight games certainly looked promising, yet after the festive season break last year, that momentum was lost as Ajax failed to win in their first eight games of 2017, as Menzo was unable to get the best out of the squad he had inherited. The Urban Warriors eventually finished the season 10th but with nothing to show for their efforts.
Ajax were in desperate need of an upgrade to their squad, and attempted to bolster their squad, bringing in a number of defensive players, including Issac Nhlapo, Mario Booysen, Junaid Sait and Tercious Malepe. The former two have played the majority of Ajax’s games this season in central defence, with the club leaking 16 goals in their 14 matches so far – the second-worst in the league.
Menzo long-loathed his lack of quality wingers this season, with Thabo Mosadi blowing warm and cold, new signings Ejike Uzoenyi and Innocent Nemukondeni more often on the treatment table than not, while a handful of club youngsters failed to make the most of the opportunities given to them. The names, however, are a far cry from ex-clubs stars Khama Billiat, Franklin Cale, Keagan Dolly and Lebogang Manyama, who all used to marshal the flanks with aplomb.
The Dutchman admitted he was also in need of a ‘number 6’, with Travis Graham frozen out of the squad due to contractual disputes, as defenders Roscoe Pietersen and Malepe were used as make-shifts in that role, along with the inconsistent Ndiviwe Mdabuka.
Upfront, all Menzo could do was rely on Tashreeq Morris for goals, with the youngster still finding his feet after almost a year out with a serious knee injury. Prince Nxumalo failed to show up at training of late, while last year’s National First Division top scorer Sedwyn George has struggled to find his feet in the big league, having been given little opportunity to shine.
Menzo cannot be blamed for the lack of quality in his squad, with Ajax’s limited budget and tendency to prefer promoting from within a hindrance in purchasing necessary recruits, yet the Dutchman failed to get the best out of what he had to work with, which could partly be a result of his approach.
Each coach comes with his own style and methods, yet it seemed Menzo’s approach was never quite bought into by the players in his year-long stay at Ikamva. Used to De Sa’s friendly, joking and nurturing way, players found the complete opposite in Menzo, a harsh, old-school disciplinarian who would bark orders on the training ground, and who imposed immediate changes at the clubhouse, forcing all squad members to eat together, and imposing fines if they were late. The usually-relaxed Ajax side were shocked, with some squad members acting in defiance over the new rules, which was said to have contributed to the exit of Mark Mayambela, one of the side’s key players last season.
On the pitch, Ajax’s usual free-flowing, creative and attack-minded style was hardly seen, with a tentative and almost timid approach to games compounded with far too many errors often ending in a negative result. With the players’ confidence down, none found the much-needed motivation from their coach as their slump seemingly never ended.
Inconsistency, and a dreadful away record, proved Menzo’s major downfall. In his 39 games in charge since his bow in a 1-1 draw against Free State Stars in early November last year, he only managed 12 wins and 11 draws, with 16 losses to boot – a win-rate of just under 31%. In over a year, Ajax managed to win on the road on just three occasions, and none so far this season – their last was a narrow 1-0 win over Chippa United in May, which was also the last time the club registered back-to-back victories.
It’s been a torrid year for Ajax, with no real stars in the squad to speak of, no Bafana Bafana regulars, no real replacement for the departed Rivaldo Coetzee and no leadership both on and off the field.
Isolated, without his own technical team to help him through, Menzo shouldered the blame as each defeat piled up, and once again took it on the chin this time in a mutual agreement to leave the club, although it has clearly not all been his fault.
The Dutchman’s exit comes ahead of an important month for the Urban Warriors, with six league fixtures in January that could make or break their campaign.
Boebie Solomons is the current assistant coach, Foppe de Haan has been conducting various youth coaching clinics at Ikamva while Muhsin Ertugral’s name has also been bandied about, with the club expected to announce Menzo’s successor this afternoon.
With Ajax two points above the relegation zone, whoever comes in faces a tough prospect in changing the fortunes of a club in desperate need of overhaul – and not just in the coaching department.