Dutch football has long had a productive relationship with its South African counterpart. Through the years, South African players have made the pilgrimage north to the Netherlands in ever-increasing numbers, while Holland has provided the odd player, but also coaches and financial backing to the South African game. Paul Gellard tells all…
In recent seasons there have been numerous Dutch players who have tried their luck in the country’s Premier Soccer League. Ajax Cape Town are, perhaps unsurprisingly given their relationship with their famous Amsterdam counterparts, the popular stop for players from the Netherlands. The club can list the likes of Sander Westerveld (still a Goalkeeper Coach at the club), Koen van de Laak, Marciano Vink, Geert Brusselers and Roelf de Boer among their alumni. As well as coaches in the form of Leo van Veen, Henk Bodewes, Jan Pruijn, Maarten Stekelenberg and Foppe de Haan. The latter took over the club in 2009, fresh from winning the European Under-21 Championships with Jong Oranje.
Other clubs in South Africa have also benefited from Dutch influence on and off the pitch. This season’s PSL campaign also features the likes of former Utrecht defender, Alje Schut, at Pretoria side Mamelodi Sundowns while Kees Kwakman, once of Groningen and NAC Breda, is now turning out for BidVest Wits of Johannesburg. Former Ajax and Oranje defender also won a league title with Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates, in 2011.
But what of South Africa’s contributions to the Dutch domestic scene? Well it won’t surprise readers to know that the club from Ajax have been the main beneficiaries of emerging South African talent, predominantly through their link with Cape Town.
In 1997, a young striker by the name of Benni McCarthy was signed by Ajax from Seven Stars (a pre-cursor to Ajax Cape Town), following a strong performance at the FIFA World Youth Championships for South Africa. McCarthy, a pacy striker, went on to manage 20 goals in 36 appearances for the Amsterdammers before moving onto Spain with Celta Vigo. He also went on to win the Champions League with FC Porto in Portugal. This was followed by a successful spell with Blackburn Rovers in England before moving onto West Ham United and, finally, returning to South Africa with Orlando Pirates.
Hot on the heels of McCarthy were defender Aaron Mokoena in 1999 and Steven Pienaar, a midfielder from Johannesburg. Signing for Ajax from their Cape Town counterparts as an 18-year-old in 2001, Pienaar went on to spend 5 seasons in Amsterdam, scoring 15 goals in 94 games before his departure to the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. He has since had successful spells with Everton, punctuated by a largely uneventful time in London with Tottenham. Mokoena, on the other hand, made just 7 appearances for Ajax and was twice loaned out to Belgian club, Germinal Beerschot of Antwerp, before moving permanently to that country with Racing Genk in 2003.
Perhaps one of the most recognisable South African face for Dutch fans is former goalkeeper, Hans Vonk. The tall shot-stopper was a slightly different proposition to other South African players in Holland by virtue of the fact he began his career in the country having been brought up there. Born to Dutch parents in Alberton, South Africa, it was not until just prior to the 1998 World Cup in France that Vonk switched allegiance to the nation of his birth, having played in one friendly game for Jong Oranje previously. It was then left to South African journalist, Peter Auf Der Heyde and Soccer News magazine, to make contact with Vonk who found the lure of playing at the World Cup hard to resist. He was at that time playing for Heerenveen for whom he played just shy of 270 games over two spells, but he also had two spells with Ajax (26 games) and RKC Waalwijk (just over 100 games), as well as a single spell for Den Bosch. He finished his playing career back in South Africa with the second of two spells back at Ajax Cape Town, with whom he also made just over 100 appearances.
Moving away from the Ajax theme which has featured so strongly in this piece, we move south to Rotterdam and, specifically, Feyenoord. De Club Aan De Maas’ relationship with South Africa can be traced back to 1975 when two brothers from Pretoria were signed by the Rotterdam giants. Steve and Geoff Wegerle made a total of 6 and 2 appearances for the club, respectively. Steve even managed 2 UEFA Cup appearances in the 1975-76 campaign after signing from Arcadia Shepherds in the South African capital.
And in more recent seasons, Rotterdam has seen South African influence on the local scene with the likes of Kamohelo Mokotjo and Kermit Erasmus. Mokotjo, who today plies his trade with FC Twente, began his Dutch career with Feyenoord in 2009 and went straight on loan to satellite side, Excelsior, where he made 25 appearances and scored once from midfield. This was the catalyst for his return to Feyenoord where he made a total of 35 appearances until 2013, when a lack of playing time and a recent call-up to the Bafana Bafana squad encouraged him to move on to PEC Zwolle. An impressive sole season at the club saw a return of 2 goals in 27 games and a subsequent move last summer to Enschede where he has been a regular in the Twente midfield three.
Erasmus, on the other hand, had only a short spell in the Netherlands after signing with Feyenoord as an 18-year-old in 2008. The Port Elizabeth-born striker made 4 appearances for the Rotterdamers before going on a season-long loan to neighbours, Excelsior, where his return of 12 goals from 30 games, including one on his debut against Telstar, was deemed much more satisfactory. Upon his return to Feyenoord however, he was deemed surplus to requirements and moved back home to sign for Supersport United of Pretoria.
Pioneers such as Steve Mokone (Heracles 1957-1958), Mich d’Avray (NEC Nijmegen 1990-1992) and later players such as Glen Salmon (NAC Breda & FC Groningen 1999-2007), Stanton Lewis (Ajax 2006-2010), Daylon Claasen (Ajax 2008-2010) and Bernard Parker (FC Twente 2009-2011) have all played their part in today’s breed having their chances in the Netherlands. Kamohelo Mokotjo has been joined at FC Twente by Nhlakanipho Ntuli, the young Durban native who is this season gaining experience in the Jupiler League with Jong Twente. And there are also PEC Zwolle’s young South Africans – Dean Patricio and Ricky Lourenco – who will be looking to make their marks in the coming seasons. They were also temporarily joined at the club on trial by Capetonian midfielder, Fagrie Lakay, towards the end of 2014.
But it is perhaps best to end this piece by mentioning the South African whose current impact is surely the most noticeable. Ajax midfielder, Thulani Serero could well be leaving the Dutch borders this summer, with AC Milan rumoured to be strongly interested in acquiring his services. The 24-year-old Sowetan joined Ajax in 2011 and served time in the Jong Ajax side before graduating to making the holding role his own for the first team. It’s fair to say there was a collective sigh of relief from the F-Side when Bafana Bafana coach, Shakes Mashaba, did not announce Serero’s name in the AFCON 2015 squad for January / February. And South Africa’s loss has undoubtedly been Ajax’s gain as the defending Eredivisie champions look to close the 11-point gap between themselves and PSV.
South African and Dutch football have become ever closer in recent years and, with the likes of talented youngster Rivaldo Coetzee reportedly interesting Ajax, that doesn’t look like ending any time soon.
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