FORMER Highlanders coach Erol Akbay has accused local football authorities of being heavily biased in favour of Dynamos, saying the Harare giants were important to Zimbabwean politics and hence always receive preferential treatment from the association as well as referees.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO/MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The outspoken tactician, who left Highlanders at the end of the season after a two-year stint with the Bulawayo giants, made the stunning accusations in a wide ranging interview with the Dutch football publication Voetbalzone last week.
During the candid interview, Akbay opened up about his coaching career, tenure and acrimonious departure from Highlanders, his views about Zimbabwean football, how he came close to taking over as Warriors coach, and his future plans, among a host of other issues.
Akbay revealed he had been charmed by the passion Zimbabweans had for the world’s most beautiful game, describing the country as “a real football country where everything revolves around football.”
It is, however, his views regarding the bitter rivalry between Dynamos and Highlanders, which could set tongues wagging after his suggestion that Dembare always benefitted from preferential treatment.
“So Dynamos is so important for politics. They have to be the boss of everyone, but that does not always work in the field. They do everything they can: they instruct the referees and linesmen and do everything they can to ensure that Dynamos wins its matches.
“That the referees were always on Dynamos’ side seemed to have been the case. It is not surprising either: half of the members of the football association are fans of Dynamos. I also remember that a Dynamos player got red once, but the president of the association [Philip Chiyangwa] dismissed the card the following day. We really thought: ‘give the championship directly to Dynamos’,” he said.
Akbay believes that the rivalry between Dynamos and Highlanders is fiercer than of one of the biggest matches in world football — the El clasico pitting Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.
He explains why.
“Zimbabwe is a real football country. Everything revolves around football and it’s about the south and the north, two clubs: Highlanders and Dynamos FC. Highlanders is from the Ndebele people and Dynamos from the Shona people. If these two teams play against each other, it is even worse than Barcelona against Real Madrid. It is not only about the points, but also about the honour. You cannot lose to that team,” he said.
As such, Akbay considers guiding Bosso to their first victory over Dynamos in 10 years as his biggest achievement in Zimbabwean football.
Bosso had not beaten Dynamos since July 2006 but last year they completed a double over their arch enemies.
Akbay never lost to DeMbare in Open play during his tenure as Highlanders coach in the league and earlier this year the first leg in Bulawayo was abandoned due to crowd trouble with the score deadlocked at 1-1.
“We had not won against them for 10 years and in my first match we won 0-2. I was treated like a god. If you lose 10 times, that is all forgotten if you win against Dynamos once,” the Dutchman said.
Akbay also appeared to wade into the emotive Gukurahundi issue, which he said contributed to the hatred between some sections of the Dynamos and Highlanders fans.
“People have been massacred, hence the hatred and envy,” he said. “It’s a little bit like old Dutchmen who still don’t like Germans. It all happened not so long ago; it is fresh in the memory of the people. That is why in one duel with Dynamos only one thing is important: winning. Against Dynamos, there are almost always fights. It is then really wartime. Our supporters are pretty aggressive fans and certainly against Dynamos they beat everything short and small. But since my arrival there has been no brawl, because we did not lose once.”
Akbay also revealed the heartbreak of missing out on the opportunity to coach the Warriors, expressing anger at his manager, who he says let him down as his no-show made him miss out on a chance to coach Zimbabwe.
“There were already talks planned with the football association (Zifa), but my agent did not show up. He is also a promoter in Zimbabwe and was in that period of promotional work in Europe. Then Zifa thought” Akbay probably does not have enough interest’,” Akbay said during the interview.
“I have been pretty pissed with him because we have missed a big chance. Zimbabwe has now appointed another coach [Sunday Chidzambwa] for one year. Nobody objected that I would become the new national coach. I have proven over the past two years that I have these capacities. Many people, fans and media, would have found it logical if I had become the national coach of Zimbabwe. Maybe I will get another chance in a year,” he added.
Until a couple of weeks back, Zimbabwe did not have a substantive coach since Kalisto Pasuwa’s contract ran out in February.
Zifa kept a tight lid on potential candidates for the better part of the year, seemingly content with using interim coaches interchangeably until Chidzambwa’s appointment.
While he is back in Netherlands, Akbay — who led Highlanders to position third and sixth respectively in the last two seasons — continues to look for opportunities outside the country with teams from Turkey, Maldives and Namibia having, already contacted him.
After a promising start to life in the City of Kings, things got bad for Akbay as tension with the executive began to build up and he announced midway through the season that he would was going to leave Highlanders.