BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
IMAGINE Highlanders’ estranged Dutch mentor Erol Akbay sitting in the FC Platinum dugout next season, or perhaps coaching Dynamos, CAPS United or Ngezi Platinum?
The outgoing Turkish-born coach has made a “come-get-me plea” to local clubs after he opened himself up to local coaching opportunities — a situation that could culminate in a stampede for the gaffer.
Akbay announced early last month that he would leave Highlanders at the end of the season when his contract expires.
Since then, Highlanders has experienced a massive slump in form drawing in one match and are currently trying to halt a five-match losing streak ahead of their big clash against Dynamos at Rufaro Stadium today.
After promising a revolution at Highlanders when he joined at the beginning of the season last year, the Dutchman has been frustrated by the club’s seemingly lack of ambition and financial constraints.
Declaring his affection for Zimbabwe as a country in a candid interview with Sports World, Akbay said he would jump on a good local opportunity.
“If there is a good opportunity, I will definitely look at it and if I like it, I will take it. What I want now are good facilities and stable resources — a professionally run club with a lot of ambition,” Akbay said.
Coming to Highlanders was Akbay’s first job outside the Netherlands and he seems to have enjoyed working in Africa, although he leaves Highlanders with a trail of unfulfilled dreams.
“I love Zimbabwe. It’s a football country and a very nice country to work in as a football coach. I do not regret coming here to coach Highlanders. There is a lot of talent, especially in Bulawayo so there is no reason why I should not want to work here again in future,” he said.
“I want to teach the guys a little bit of European football so that all they think about is European football” was one of Akbay’s promises upon arrival in Zimbabwe.
In the first half of the season last year, Highlanders showed flashes of “European football” but it fizzled out in the second half of the season, eventually finishing third in a 16-team league behind CAPS United and FC Platinum.
Akbay then blamed the poor run in the second half of the season on the club’s failure to find suitable replacements following the departure of Knox Mtizwa and Bruce Kangwa for South Africa and Tanzania respectively.
Worryingly, the same trend has continued this season and Bosso find themselves in ninth place — 19 points behind the leaders — as the season reaches the home stretch.
The Bulawayo giants also failed to hold onto two of their key players during the mid-season transfer window period. Promising striker Prince Dube joined SuperSport (South Africa), with Roderick Mutuma being snatched by fellow Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Yadah FC, but the club has failed to bring in any new players during the window.
“Nothing out of this world is going wrong in the second half of the season at Highlanders. But if you lose your key players during the mid-season break then it takes time to adjust. And currently it’s a strikers’ problem.
“We lost Prince Dube and Roderick Mutuma and we did not get any replacements. Our football has remained good but we are failing to score goals, which is why we are struggling,” Akbay said.
Akbay also bemoaned the fixture congestion that local clubs have had to experience after the PSL at the behest of the football mother body Zifa increased the competition from 16 to 18 teams.
“This season we have had to play a lot of mid-week games compared to last year, which is why we have been losing more matches. It’s a scenario where you need a big pool of quality players so that you can rotate the team,” noted Akbay.
While he cited Bosso’s financial struggles as the main driver of his decision to end his marriage with the club, he said this season has generally been unhappy.
“My goal is always to win matches, win trophies and make everybody happy. At the beginning the Highlanders family was very happy with my work and this year it’s clear that they have been unhappy from the start of the season, which is a problem for me. I always want to stay where people are happy,” he said.
Akbay could not deny that living away from his family has been a contributing factor.
“As a coach, sometimes it’s very difficult to be away from your family because sometimes you need your family around when things are not going well. But if you choose to be a football coach you have to be prepared for such things,” he said.
While there is very little speculation on where Akbay will be headed at the end of the season, it is increasingly likely that he may not finish the season if Bosso’s fortunes in the league do not change.