The Sunday Mail
WHEN Highlanders announced they were hiring a chap called Erol Akbay as their coach, the belief was that this was a knee-jerk reaction to Dynamos’ seemingly million dollar move.
DeMbare – amid pomp and the usual loud talk – had just announced the coming on board of Portuguese coach Paulo Jorge Silva, and the Glamour Boys felt they had struck gold.
It was gold alright, but fools’ gold!Silva talked tough and vowed to win the league title as quickly as possible. His gospel found millions – seven million if Dynamos propaganda is to be believed – of fans who shouted “I receive” each time the Portuguese vowed to deliver glory.
So when Highlanders announced that they would be going Dutch, ignoring several former sons including the NetOne Cup winning pair of Cosmas Zulu and Amini Soma Phiri, they were accused of simply copying DeMbare in appointing a European.
A Google search gave little on Akbay and the media in Bulawayo was quick to lash the Bosso executive for trusting such a coach, who had spent years coaching juniors in his homeland, with Zimbabwe’s oldest football institution.
The Bosso leadership insisted they had made the right call; while Akbay’s manager, Denford Mutashu, called for his man to be judged on what he produced on the park and not the noise made in the Press.
And it didn’t take long for the 49-year-old Akbay to make his mark. He didn’t need to beat Dynamos – which he later on went to do anyway– to make the Bosso family believe that he was indeed a cool Dutch dude.
He won over his players, as well as the media, just 15 minutes into his maiden training session.
A certain Bruce Kangwa was the biggest beneficiary of having a new sheriff in town; finally here was a coach who allowed him to play the way he felt like playing.
“The first thing that coach Akbay did was to work on our self-belief,” Kangwa reveals. “He told us to play with freedom and life has been enjoyable, our training sessions are more exciting and the results have been showing on the pitch.
“At a personal level I have had one of my best starts to the season and all credit should go to the coach, he moved me into midfield and highlighted areas I need to improve on.”
Gabriel Nyoni has always fancied himself as a striker but Akbay reckons he is a midfielder living in denial, hence a metamorphosis is underway.
Nyoni is excited by it.
“The culture he has introduced makes it very conducive for players to perform and I am hoping to be featuring prominently in the second half of the season, though I am now a midfielder. The injury I had was pulling me back but I have played some games in the past month and hope to see more action,” he says.
For Mutashu, Akbay’s transformation of the club not only vindicates his decision to recommend him to Highlanders, but also opens new business opportunities.
“I don’t want to lie, I am breathing much easier now than I did at the start of the season,” says Akbay’s manager. “Yes, I knew that Erol was a good coach but football is full of coaches who failed to make it not because they were bad but because they failed to adapt to their new environment.”
Mutashu reckons Akbay will turn out to be the gift that keeps on giving for Bosso.“He is in the process of producing youngsters who are tailor made for Europe, mark my words Highlanders will once again be the club that produces the best young talent in the country,” he says.