Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS have again turned to Amini Soma-Phiri and Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu to take charge of the club’s pre-season training that starts on Tuesday next week on a caretaker basis while awaiting the arrival of head coach Erol Akbay.
Highlanders’ chief executive officer Ndumiso Gumede revealed this yesterday in response to inquiries about Akbay’s arrival at the Bulawayo giants.
Gumede said Bosso were working towards obtaining a work permit for Akbay before he could take charge of the Easycall Cup holders.
“The process of getting a work permit for the coach has started. The situation is that the coach’s permit has to be finalised while he is still in his country of residence. This might take some time and because we can’t sit on our laurels, the technical team, which led the team to the end of last season, will get the ball rolling on Tuesday, January 12,” said Gumede.
“Look, the man who is coming has an obligation to choose his assistants. Because we don’t know when the Dutch coach will get his work permit, we couldn’t just sit and that’s why we’ve said the technical staff that pointed out areas of concern to us regarding our squad be the ones that get the ball rolling. Remember, these (Soma-Phiri and Zulu) are the same people, who’ve declared that they’re Highlanders at heart and as such, the club can deploy them in any position,” said Gumede.
The confidence given to Soma-Phiri and Zulu technically means the club wants the duo to assist Akbay, something Gumede could not be drawn into confirming.
However, Soma-Phiri is on record saying he cannot work as an assistant coach to an unheralded gaffer and that he is only prepared to continue serving Highlanders if the club shows him the respect he deserves.
He felt some in the Bosso hierarchy had set him up for failure due to his association with Amavevane, a well known outspoken faction within the club.
Soma-Phiri and Zulu were roped in to guide Bosso out of a crisis when Bongani Mafu was fired in September last year.
Bosso were embroiled in their worst start to the season last year and their calamitous run saw them tottering on the brink of the relegation zone before Soma-Phiri, Zulu and Melusi “Mabaleka” Sibanda breathed some life into the Bulawayo giants.
Under the interim trio, Highlanders finished the season strongly, claiming a sixth place finish, and lifted the season-ending Easycall Cup by beating league champions Chicken Inn in the final.
On their way to the final, Soma-Phiri, Zulu and Sibanda outwitted FC Platinum and bitter rivals Dynamos to cap one of the finest runs Bosso have enjoyed in recent years.
At his last official press conference as Highlanders’ interim head coach in 2015, Soma-Phiri said he had urged the club’s leadership to retain most of the players he had worked with in his 12-match tenure.
However, Bosso have already lost reliable striker Obidiah Tarumbwa and defender Teenage Hadebe to Chicken Inn, who are building for their maiden appearance in the Caf Champions League.
Midfielder Nqobizitha Masuku has made the short trip to Zvishavane to join FC Platinum while Edmore “Digo” Muzanenhamo has reportedly crossed the floor to newly promoted Bulawayo City.
This means Soma-Phiri and Zulu will effectively be responsible for laying Highlanders’ foundation for the 2016 season as they will be required to find suitable replacements for the players Bosso have lost as well as bringing in those the club requires.
Sibanda won’t be part of the interim technical set up as he was moved to the Highlanders Academy team that won promotion into the Southern Region League as head coach.
It is not clear whether Soma-Phiri and Zulu will again serve on a voluntary basis while waiting for Akbay’s arrival or they will demand contracts having proved their worth in their brief tenure.
Immigration sources said it could take Bosso at least a month to get a work permit for Akbay provided all relevant paperwork has been submitted.
If Soma-Phiri accepts the new deployment, he will have to backtrack on his earlier sentiments and endure working under a coach without a colourful CV.
According to his online CV, Akbay is a mere development coach, who has spent 17-years coaching in the Netherlands’ second tier league. He was also among 39 coaches that applied for the Rwanda national team job in February 2015.
His CV shows that he first ventured into coaching in 1997, spending two years in charge of Heracles Almelo’s Under-19 team before being asked to take charge of the Under-17s in the 1999/2000 season.
From 2000 to 2002, the Dutchman was involved in scouting for players from the Under-10 to Under-19 age-groups. He was then appointed head coach of second division side HVV Hengelo for the 2002/2003 season and led them to a fifth place finish, and also led the club to the semi-finals of a domestic cup.
The following season, he moved to another second division side Barbaros and finished 11th.
He then joined another second league side BWO for the 2004/2005 season and led them to a top four finish. From 2005 to 2008, Akbay joined Twello, who finished sixth in his first season and fifth and sixth in the following two seasons.
He then moved to Barbaros as a technical advisor between 2008 and 2011. He returned to HVV Hengelo in 2011 as head coach and stayed there for three seasons. In his three years at the club, he led them to a seventh and fifth place finish in both the second and third seasons.