Ajax CT desperate for PSL status amid Amsterdam quit threat

Ari Efstathiou (Gallo Images)
Ari Efstathiou (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Ajax Cape Town CEO Ari Efstathiou is believed to be in a desperate bid to secure top-flight football to secure the future of the club.

Confined to the National First Division (NFD), he faces the serious threat of parent club Ajax Amsterdam either pulling out of their long-standing partnership or tabling a takeover bid.

The Urban Warriors narrowly missed out on a promotion-relegation playoff spot to the Absa Premiership when finishing fourth in the 2018/19 NFD campaign.

The top brass at Ajax Amsterdam are reported to be once again seriously questioning the viability of continuing their 20-year partnership as they require the talent-feeder club to be competing at the highest level in South African football.

Sport24 understands that Efstathiou travelled to Amsterdam to hold crisis talks in a desperate bid to convince Ajax Amsterdam against pulling out.

The Dutch giants are actively exploring two options, either to buy out Efstathiou's remaining 49% stake in the club or as a last resort, end their partnership.

Their favoured option is to own 100% of the Cape-based club with Head of Football and Youth Hans Vonk stepping in as CEO, allowing for a more hands-on approach in the day-to-day running of the club.

As a last resort, they would be left with no option but to pull out of their partnership altogether after becoming disillusioned with recent footballing decisions that have cost the club its PSL status.

Questions have been raised regarding the decision-making within the club since the exit of John Comitis to rival club Cape Town City FC which has left Ajax a shadow of its former self as one of the top producers of SA talent.

After their relegation to the NFD was confirmed, Efstathiou admitted that the parent club were "considering their options" regarding their future involvement.

Efstathiou arrived back in South Africa on Monday morning hell-bent on securing their PSL status and sought to explore his options as to how best to go about doing so.

His first - and less costly option - was to bring an urgent application on Tuesday (May 14) to challenge the decision of the PSL Arbitration to not dock points from TTM FC, who finished third in the NFD this season, ahead of Ajax on goal difference.

That application was dismissed.

The second - and now last resort - is to potentially purchase an existing PSL club's status.

Bloemfontein Celtic and Free State Stars had been identified as targets, but with Stars relegated to the NFD on the final day of the season, that leaves Celtic as the only option.

However, buying Celtic's top-flight status is a complicated one with supporter unrest and various financial troubles plaguing the club.

A PSL club's status can sell for anywhere between R40-R60 million with an NFD franchise going for around R12-R15 million.

Ajax could look to swap places with Celtic and pay the monetary difference to owner Max Tshabalala.

It would be financially feasible for Ajax to purchase an Absa Premiership status as they would recoup the majority of the funds spent on any potential deal when receiving their monthly PSL grant.

Unconfirmed figures suggest that teams in the top flight receive a grant in the region of R4 million per month.

In comparison, NFD sides receive a mere R350 000 from the PSL.

In a carefully worded statement, Celtic distanced themselves from rumours that the club had already been sold. 

"Look, we are not saying Celtic is not for sale," Mandla Tshabalala, the club's legal advisor and cousin of owner Max, told Soccer Laduma.

"But to our knowledge, there has not been any formal offer from Ajax," he said.

"I think it has been public information for a while now that should the right offer come around, Celtic would be willing to sell. We are open to offers being tabled and it is just about agreeing on terms."

Efstathiou, a billionaire businessman in the property development industry, now has to decide whether it's worth buying his way back into the PSL to continue the Ajax Amsterdam partnership.

He has continuously rejected takeover bids in the past, having recently turned down an approach by former head coach Roger de Sa who intended to establish a club in Cape Town, which he eventually did with Cape Umuyo United.

Efstathiou's reluctance to sell is understandable as there are various positives to owning a well-known soccer club. Cape Town City owner and former partner Comitis, in an interview with IOL, revealed these benefits when establishing Ajax.

"Any professional team in SA is always going to be newsworthy and popular," Comitis said.

"This meant that we could leverage our brands and business profiles through the sport."

There is now uncertainty regarding the future of the club and a real threat that Ajax Amsterdam could cut ties from a partnership that is vital to the development of youth in South African football.

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