The Sunday Mail
Only a fortnight after taking up the job, new Highlanders coach Hendrik Pieter De Jongh already has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.
Sweet irony runs through De Jongh’s story.
His predecessor, Elroy Akbay, would understand better his fellow Dutchman’s range of emotions.
Akbay is famous for breaking Bosso’s 10-year winless streak against arch-rivals Dynamos. After his departure at the Bulawayo Giants towards the end of 2017, Akbay went on to say, “We had not won against them (Dynamos) for 10 years and in my first match, we won 2-0.
“I have been treated like a god. If you lose 10 times, that is all forgotten if you win against Dynamos.”
Well, after beating Dynamos, De Jongh can rest easy fully aware that he has already accomplished the most difficult part of his task in the Highlanders dugout.
Not only that.
Winning against Dynamos in his first match as Highlanders coach was enough for De Jongh to win the hearts of the Bosso faithfuls.
Beating Chicken Inn in the Bulawayo derby, three days later, convinced the Bulawayo giant stakeholders that De Jongh might just be the right man for the job.
Since the turn of the millennium, his arrival at Highlanders brings the number of foreign coaches at Bosso to five.
But, only the late Eddie May managed to win the league title, bagging two championships in his three-year stay at the club. The 49-year old De Jongh is confident of breaking the league’s championship jinx.
“I am an ambitious coach who wants to win championships and trophies. l want to make a name on the international scene,” said De Jongh.
And his two wins in a row have left De Jongh optimistic.
However, he is also cautious of the task that lies ahead.
“I am a man on a mission and my target this season is to save the team from relegation.
“Next season, I will be playing for the league title. Highlanders is a big institution that should be playing for the title, not to fight relegation.
“Apart from surviving relegation, l intend to finish the season in the top eight. lf I finish within that range, I will be a happy man.
“It is a good thing to start your new job with big wins. I am delighted with the results as they have boosted the team’s confidence,” said the former Spartan Rotterdam striker.
De Jongh said in the two weeks he has been at Highlanders, he has been impressed by the talent at its disposal and has had one-on-one sessions with the technical team and players, during which he has shared with them his vision.
“I am happy that everyone understands their role at the club,” he said.
The Dutchman also revealed how he came close to joining Bosso in 2016. He has been an avid follower of Zimbabwean football ever since.
“In 2016, I came close to joining Highlanders, but the move fell through at the last minute.
“I was then appointed technical director for Rwanda Football Association.
“Zimbabwe has great football quality. I have been following the teams in the local Premiership and those that have participated in the Champions League as well as the Confederation Cup.
“I know what to expect,” said the Dutchman.
De Jongh began his career as a youth coach at RKC Waalwiik in 1990, before being appointed youth coach for the Netherlands national youth team in 1994.
He is, however, not new to African football. De Jongh has had coaching stints in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and eSwatini.
In December 2013, De Jongh was appointed technical director for Budapest Honvéd before joining AFC Leopards of Kenya in May 2014. However, a string of poor results saw the Dutchman being sacked seven months into his new job.
He moved to South Africa and joined FC Cape Town. He, however, could not last the distance and moved to Mongolia, where he was appointed head coach of Ulaanbaatar FC.