After a faultless first appearance, there appears to be an instant new contender for signing of the season in the South African Premier League.
For four years, Ajax Cape Town thrived on the industry of one Clayton Jagers, this summer, Mamelodi Sundowns will be parading him under his new moniker, Clayton Michael Daniels.
Before the 27-year-old central defender from the Cape Flats arrived at the self-styled Brazilians last week, we had three leading contenders.
Bernard Parker from Holland’s FC Twente Enschede and Lehlohonolo Majoro from Amazulu have helped Kaizer Chiefs take the early lead in the title race. Benni McCarthy arrived from his goal-free nightmare at West Ham, struck after eight minutes for Orlando Pirates and scored again on Wednesday night against Maritzburg United before his controversial dismissal heralded a shock defeat.
The hype that surrounds Soweto’s big two generally thrusts the Amakhosi and the Buccaneers into the limelight, but there can be little doubt about the performance of the week. Daniels’ debut inspired a 4-0 win over Moroka Swallows at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe stadium, Sundowns’ temporary home in Atteridgeville, west of Tshwane.
Sundowns’ highly-pedigreed new boss, Johan Neeskens, saw his side struggle initially in an opening 0-0 draw with a very average AmaZulu before a 2-0 win over promoted Jomo Cosmos.
But Wednesday night, with Daniels working his magic behind the resurrected former South African player of the year Teko Modise and Bafana Bafana spearhead Katlego “Killer” Mphela, Neeskens was purring after his side had registered the biggest win of the SAPL season so far.
While captain Method Mwanjali sat in the stands watching his hastily drafted-in replacement, Dutch master Neeskens raved: “I’m very, very happy with Clayton’s performance. He has class.
“It’s supposed to be difficult the first time you play for a new team but he showed what kind of a player he is – and I know he can do even better.”
Bemused Birds boss Gordon Ingesund, a man who knows a thing or two about South African football, said: "Playing Sundowns is more like playing Bafana Bafana ... they are all national team material.”
Though Mwanjali will be back for the MTN8 semi-final second leg against Orlando Pirates at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday – there was Method in the madness, Daniels is cup tied for the clash which sees the Buccaneers carrying a narrow 3-2 advantage – the arrival of Daniels will certainly give the SAPL’s leading title winners a significant edge over the months to come.
Daniels himself says: "I have signed a three year deal with Sundowns and I'm hoping my career will get better, that's my aim and I don't see why not because I have joined the right club."
After going on trial to Ere Divisie club Vitesse Arnhem and mother club Ajax Amsterdam pre-season, there is always the Dutch connection. Daniels adds: "I had a big talk with Ajax, they felt it was time for me to move on. Sundowns were interested, they play good football and coming from a Dutch background in terms of coaching I felt that it won't be difficult adjusting to life under Neeskens.”
Daniels, who hails from Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats, played for amateur Capetonian outfits Celtic United, Clyde Pinelands and Riverside Rangers before being spotted by the Ajax scouting system.
The man who officially changed his surname from Jagers to Daniels “for personal reasons” in February, 2008, adds: "They’ve all given me a warm welcome at Sundowns, the only thing that is left now is to work hard and fight for my place in the team. I am so happy to be at a big club and I am ready to grab my chance.
"I will always be grateful to Ajax. I will always treasure the great memories I shared with them.”
But given the troubled journey of another former Ajax central defender who went north to Chloorkop - Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira, who is now clamouring for a return to Cape Town - Daniels knows he has only just begun.
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