First Touch programme kicks off…

Ajax Cape Town captain Travis Graham keeps his eye on the play during a match against German side VfL Wolfsburg last year.

Ajax Cape Town’s Ikamva home in Parow resembled a primary school playground on Sunday, as hundreds of youngsters born between 2005 and 2007, took part in the club’s annual First Touch Programme open trials.

That was the first step in a journey that will see 16 of the best from this group making up the Urban Warriors 2017 under-12 side.

A total of 115 players were selected from 300 hopefuls. They will now be invited to the next stage of the programme, said Ajax head of scouting, Sergio dos Santos.

Dos Santos described Sunday’s event as an open trial, as it was open to all players born between 2005 and 2007, rather than being by invitation only, as it is the case in other age groups.

More trials are scheduled to take place in five other areas and the dates and venues will be announced soon.

Dos Santos said he, together with his team of 20 scouts, are aware that the players, at that age, are still young so they didn’t expect them to know the complexities of the game.

“We are not asking for much at this stage but they will do certain drills. We are looking for things like the player’s first touch (hence the name of the programme), his execution of a pass, awareness of his surroundings and what he does with the ball,” said Dos Santos, ahead of Sunday’s event.

He said the youngsters will also be involved in what is called the Ikamva Challenge, where eight teams of 12 players each (96 players in total) will play against each other. From then, the number of players will be reduced and those remaining will play against each other later in the year for place in the 16-player final under-12 team for next year.

Most players who went on to play for Ajax’s first team and, eventually, the national team, started right there at the club’s under-12 age group.

National under-23 first-choice goalkeeper Jody February, from Mitchell’s Plain, and the Urban Warriors’ latest signing, Luthando Mateza, from Gugulethu, are two of many such examples.

February, 20, and Mateza, 18, started their Ajax careers at that age. They climbed through the junior ranks up to the first team and, for February, beyond. Dos Santos said developing a player at that age group was key.

This, he said, was because a child starting off at the age of 14, for instance, would be a few steps behind because he missed out on that all important early development. He was, however, quick to note that there are exceptions.

“Some players are late developers and at Ajax, for instance, we had players coming here as 14 year olds and going on to make their mark at senior level.

“So, we can’t just ignore the other age groups,” said Dos Santos.