Ricky Zililo Senior Sports Reporter
THE Highlanders’ executive has had enough of the volatile relationship between assistant coach Amini Soma-Phiri and technical director Cosmas Zulu and is contemplating severing ties with one of them.
The deterioration in relations between the two coaches reached boiling point soon after the ZNA Charities Shield quarter-final win over Chicken Inn at Barbourfields Stadium on Sunday when they engaged in a verbal sparring that almost degenerated into a fistfight in the dressing room.
It took the intervention of a senior player to separate the two and prevent them from exchanging blows.
Soma-Phiri and Zulu’s clash on Sunday was reported to the executive by new head coach Erol Akbay at the Monday review meeting.
Soma-Phiri and Zulu first publicly clashed during a joint Highlanders’ executive and technical team meeting at the club offices on Wednesday last week over the composition of Under-20 players to fill five mandatory slots in the 30-man squad to be registered for the 2016 season.
The two refused to sign the provisional squad presented to the executive due to their bickering. The executive threw the list back at the two and ordered them to iron out their differences, but their rift seems to have widened.
Highlanders chief executive officer Ndumiso Gumede said the club had now decided to act as they could not afford to nurse the coaches’ simmering animosity.
He said the club’s vice-chairman Modern Ngwenya also took it upon himself to engage Soma-Phiri and Zulu as well as to monitor their rapport and came to the conclusion that their soured relations were worsening.
“The executive decided last Thursday that the matter can’t be left to sort itself out as it is exacerbating. Instead of creating room for accusations and counter-accusations, the executive gave the protagonists a chance to make amends. They were sent away with that instruction, but no sooner were they given that advise that one of them immediately said they will not be in a position to work with the other,” said Gumede.
“The most embarrassing spat came on Sunday when the two were admonished by a senior player for their despicable behaviour at Barbourfields’ changing rooms. The coach (Akbay) then raised his concerns on the acrimony, saying he had noticed from when he arrived that one of the coaches wasn’t pleased with him through his body language.
“The executive discussed the issues raised by the coach and decided that it will not open a can of worms by giving opportunities to the two to throw mud at each other in their presence. What happened is that the two were asked to write reports as to why they can’t work together when they did a wonderful job last year,” Gumede said.
He said they are worried by the sour relations manifesting when the club is celebrating its 90th anniversary and chances of wielding the axe on one of them are high.
“It’s only after the executive has read their reports that a decision will be made. Zulu and Soma-Phiri were told in no uncertain terms that sometimes it’s necessary to be cruel to be kind. If you’ve a cancer on your foot, it’s better to cut the foot off and let the person live. Sacrifices may very well be made for the sake of the club, which has survived far worse situations in its 90 years of existence (than Soma-Phiri and Zulu’s squabbling),” Gumede said.
Soma-Phiri could be the one sacrificed as Akbay may well have been referring to his unfriendly body language.
Soma-Phiri last year laughed off the hiring of Akbay at the club’s last official press conference of 2015 in December, saying he was ripe to be Bosso’s big man after being asked if he would take the assistant coaching job if offered.
He said he felt insulted and abused and demanded respect, questioning what new things he would learn from Akbay.
“It’s a little bit tricky; this new man (Akbay) said to be coming, what really will he be teaching me? I don’t think I can learn anything from anyone right now; I’ve gone through the mill. I’ve worked with so many coaches at many clubs here in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and I don’t see anyone coming to teach me anything, unless if he will be coming from Mars,” Soma-Phiri said in December.