BY FORTUNE MBELE
THE Covid-19-induced pullout of giant cellular network provider NetOne from sponsoring football clubs in the country has dealt a heavy blow to Highlanders’ hopes of retaining the services of their British coach Mark Harrison.
Harrison was forced to travel back to England after taking charge of only one match as Highlanders coach when the Bulawayo giants fell 2-0 to champions FC Platinum in a Castle Challenge Cup at Barbourfields Stadium in March.
The 59-year-old former Port Vale and Stoke City goalkeeper was barely four months into his two-year contract with Bosso when the start of the 2020 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season was postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Englishman would not take a pay cut at Highlanders and the two parties agreed his contract be “suspended” in May paving way for his return home to the United Kingdom to be with his family.
Although Harrison and the Bosso leadership were then confident that the coach would return to Zimbabwe when things return to normalcy, a reunion is now looking doubtful.
NetOne paid Harrison, other technical staff members and players’ salaries in local currency, while a foreign currency component of the gaffer’s salary was reportedly taken care of by unnamed benefactors in the diaspora.
Highlanders’ CEO Nhlanhla Dube said Harrison’s return would depend on the club getting a sponsor to pay the coach’s salary.
“The main decider of his return has always been our ability to find a support system for his salary and upkeep. We are still in the hunt for sponsorship for that and for the team at large,” Dube told Standardsport.
This means that there is no guarantee that Harrison could return soon with a possible resumption of football activity in the PSL, after Zifa got the nod from government.
Harrison’s assistants Mandla Mpofu and Bekithemba Ndlovu are in charge in the interim, with the former being linked with a move to FC Platinum, reportedly at the behest of the champions’ head coach Hendrikus Pieter de Jongh following the departure of his assistant Lizwe Sweswe.
Highlanders sold their key striker Prince Dube to Tanzania’s Vodacom Premier Soccer League side Azam FC in August and have also lost midfielder Brian Banda to FC Platinum and striker Tinashe Makanda has reportedly signed for Dynamos.
Midfielder Nqobizitha Masuku has been said to be linked with a return to FC Platinum while defender Peter Muduhwa is on Chicken Inn’s radar after a deal to join a club in Sudan fell through.