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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

South Africa: Irvin Khoza opens new live-in Ajax football academy

Mark Gleeson

Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman Irvin Khoza opened Ajax Cape Town’s new academy‚ the Ajax Lambda Institute‚ on Friday and hailed the boarding school facility as a pathway to excellence.

Ajax‚ despite struggling in the National First Division after their controversial relegation from the PSL last season‚ have embarked on the ambitious project and already have seven boys living fulltime in the club’s newly-built academy‚ complete with schooling and a hands-on matron‚ or house mother.

Next year the number will be increased by another seven boys‚ including the first two scholars from outside the Cape‚ one of whom is from outside South Africa.

“Our mission is to prepare and nurture young African talent to take them to the top European leagues‚” said Ajax chairman Ari Efstathiou.

“We aim to annually produce at least six players who go on to play professionally. Our dream is to have two or three them good enough to go to Europe and the rest to the PSL. There is no room for failure at the academy.”

The school is unique in that the boys live and go to school at the facility‚ with their days divided between training and schooling plus a whole host of other activities to build and mould their character.

“We’ve decided to look at a more holistic approach and the five attributes are talent‚ education‚ physicality‚ nutrition and mental development‚” added Efstathiou.

“Talent is an obvious criteria and we believe that professional athletes must be properly educated. As far as physicality is concerned‚ we are cognisant that South African players are generally small and can be bigger.

“In the past we’ve had kids who have come to train without eating a meal and so we will ensure proper nutrition.

“On the mental side we will prepare the kids to become professionals. This must be done from an early age‚ 14-15‚ sometimes even younger.

“The boys at the academy are aged between 13 and 16 and they have been selected in terms of a rigorous criteria‚ which is obviously their talent‚ their ability to learn and their physical attributes.”

Khoza said it was “remarkable” what Ajax were doing considering the challenges they faced trying to get out of the NFD.

“Anything that you do to help the youth of this country is visionary‚” the PSL boss told Ajax.

“Kids who grow up with purpose go on to become engaged citizens. Ajax have set the standard on which other PSL clubs can follow by seeking to arm and train kids well beyond their playing days.”

Edwin van der Sar‚ the former Netherlands World Cup goalkeeper who is now CEO of Ajax Amsterdam‚ and who funded most of the project‚ was also at the launch in a clear signal that the Dutch club will continue to back Ajax Cape Town despite their current woes.

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