Ajax’s Jali set for success
Travis Graham of Ajax Cape Town
From the young boy who used to pick up the ball on the training field to an Ajax Cape Town first team player, Travis Graham has started to come into his own in recent times.
Signed on as one of the six promoted players from the Urban Warriors’ youth team, Graham faced a tough task ahead of him.
Not only did the slim framed 19-year-old have to make an impression on his coaches, he would have to compete against the likes of Nhlanhla Shabalala and Granwald Scott for the holding position in the park.
Described by his father, Trevor Graham, as a ‘defensive midfielder who can hit the ball perfectly’, the former Bergvliet High School teen made his introduction to the league in a 3-1 loss away to Moroka Swallows.
It was the second match of the season for the Ikamva outfit in which he received praise from, then coach, Maarten Stekelenburg: “He played a fantastic game. For me it is not about giving players their debut, but I put the players on the field when I think they can win the game. I think Travis did a good job.”
Although it may have been an unprecedented debut for Graham, which was coupled with several call-ups to Solly Luvhengo’s Amajita squad he suddenly found himself in a lull of uncertainty.
“I felt very honoured to represent my country for the first time. Everything went well and I played with the team,” he said when returning from duty in Nigeria.
“It was to make myself known again. People don’t know my style and how I play, so being part of the Amajita side showed me how I could play and how I can perform on the field.”
Often included in his former youth team coach’s matchday squad, game time hit a halt when the inevitable happened - when Stekelenburg was shown the backdoor out of Cape Town Stadium, as early as October 1.
The Dutchman’s predecessor, Jan Pruijn, wanted a change in identity for his squad, preferring a more dominating mixture of experience over youth and it was Graham, along with his best friend Keagan Dolly, who was to be dropped from the setup.
When asked what could separate his son from the rest Trevor replied “his ability to read the game and his strong mental state”.
When seeing the likes of his fellow compatriot Mosa Lebusa ruling the left flank from the defence to up field, there was no doubting that his position in the squad was questioned.
But as the good old saying goes ‘a parent knows what is best for his child’, Travis didn’t let the lack of game time get the better of his mental game.
Nearly three months after making his debut, Graham took to the field of Cape Town Stadium in a crucial Cape derby against Chippa United and it was then, where the reasons behind him being hailed as the next Andile Jali, became evident.
Like a fish to water, the deep lying midfielder showed no nerves in his home debut, in which he helped break up the Chippa attack and distribute the ball to his teammates like a veteran.
His worth ethic and technique on the field did not go unnoticed by Pruijn who admitted he may be forced to feature Graham on a more frequently.
Graham’s presence and stability on the field allowed for Scott to move into a freer and more creative role further afield, placing the former skipper into his originally preferred position on the park.
Further signs of promise were displayed against Kaizer Chiefs when Graham - the second youngest player on the field – was the only positive factor in the 3-0 bashing in Polokwane.
He may not yet be Jali quality just yet, but it is worth taking note that this Ajax gem is ready to carve out his own name in PSL football.