Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS have set a top four target for new Dutch head coach Erol Akbay in his first season with the Bulawayo giants this year.
Akbay finally arrived in Bulawayo at noon yesterday aboard a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, and was met at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport by Bosso’s newly elected vice-chairman Modern Ngwenya, secretary-general Emmet Ndlovu, treasurer Donald Ndebele and chief executive officer Ndumiso Gumede.
He was whisked away to the club house for a hastily arranged press conference where it was announced that the relatively low profile coach had signed a two-year performance-based contract with Highlanders.
Gumede revealed that Akbay’s conditions are almost similar to those of former gaffer Bongani Mafu, who was given a target of 20 points from the first 10 league games.
“Akbay is here on a two-year performance-based contract. In the first year, he’ll be finding his feet. In the first 10 games we expect the team to stay with the leading pack and achieve a minimum of 60 percent success. This may sound steep, but he admitted that Highlanders is a big club,” said Gumede.
“A top four finish in 2016 will be deemed reasonably well because the first year is tricky, but in the second year, he would have had an opportunity to add players in the July and January transfer window next year.”
Gumede was quick to clarify that Akbay’s top four target does not in any way mean Highlanders are not interested in clinching the league title they last won in 2006.
He said Akbay’s assistants Cosmas Zulu and Amini Soma-Phiri will be sacked together with him should the Dutchman fail to meet his set targets.
“If Akbay doesn’t achieve, the people who were propping him up in failing will also go, so they’ve to support him. Remember what happened to Mafu and his technical team last year; when results weren’t forthcoming they all went. It’s there in their (Soma-Phiri and Zulu)’s contracts that if results don’t come they’ll go,” said Gumede.
Vice-chairman Ngwenya said: “The anxiety is finally over and it’s time to hit the ground running. We hope and pray that our players will adapt quickly to his formation so that we beat other teams.”
Ndlovu was also chuffed by Akbay’s arrival.
“We’re so delighted, excited and happy to introduce to you on our 90th celebration year our new coach Akbay who’ll take us to the Promised Land,” he said.
Akbay said he is happy to be finally in the country officially as Highlanders’ coach and is ready for the challenge awaiting him at Bosso.
“I’m happy and excited to start work at Highlanders which is a big club. As a big club, I think we’ve to play and challenge for honours. I want to give very nice football to the club,” said Akbay.
Asked if he had sent his training programme to Soma-Phiri and Zulu while waiting for the issuance of his work permit, Akbay said: “No, the programme starts from now. It’s my operation now.”
The Highlanders’ coach said he needs up to three months to get the players to fully understand his philosophy.
“Normally it takes three months for the players to understand the philosophy of a (new) coach. The first six weeks are about making players understand the basics of what you want as a coach. As of now I don’t know the players, but my strategy is to try and play with the same first team every week,” he said.
The Highlanders’ hierarchy will be hoping that their Akbay gamble sparks a reaction and his tactics bring out the best out of the club’s players to transform Bosso into the fearsome team it was more than a decade ago.
The Dutch gaffer is more of a developmental coach, according to his CV available online. He states in his CV that he spent 17 years coaching in the Netherlands’ second tier league since first venturing into coaching in 1997.
He was also among 39 coaches that applied for the Rwanda national team job in February 2015.