BULAWAYO giants Highlanders have been long known for their love for foreign coaches and the club leads the pack when it comes to engaging them. BY THANDIWE MOYO AND FORTUNE MBELE
Some of them — like the late Eddie May — did extremely well, while others have failed to make an impression during their stay at the club.
A lot is expected from new coach Erol Akbay (EK), who has been appointed to turn around the fortunes of the club that last landed the championship in 2006 under the guidance of Methembe Ndlovu.
Akbay has been in Zimbabwe for one week and two days and has hit the ground running at the former league champions.
The soft-spoken Dutchman, who says he was born in Turkey, spoke to SS last week. Akbay, who was born on December 20 1966, spoke about his football career, his first time in the country and how it has been so far at Highlanders.
Clad in the club’s black and white regalia, the head gaffer met us at a local restaurant in the company of one of his assistants, Cosmas Zulu — who has been assisting the coach to familiarise with the City of Kings and also helped in clarifying issues during the interview, since English is not Akbay’s first language.
Akbay moved to the Netherlands with his parents at the age of seven.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
(SS) You have been with Highlanders for a couple of days now. Please take us through your first few hours or days at the club.
(EK) First few days or first few hours — you have seen it also that I have only watched the players and the people around the players who I will work with, what they think. I was mostly observing than really doing any work. After four days I started asking more questions that I wanted to know about players and [to discuss] how we want to start the pre-season.
(SS) How has it been at the club and how have you incorporated your philosophy and what they require from you?
(EK) Highlanders know what kind of coach I am and Highlanders are also looking for this kind of style of football.
(SS) Maybe we should have started with the question, who is Erol Akbay?
(EK) Erol Akbay is 49 years old. I am married and I have two kids. I was seven years old when I was taken to Netherlands by my parents. I went to school playing football there in Netherlands and after football I contemplated on coaching. I thought about what I wanted to do and I thought coaching was good and I started and 20 years later, I am at Highlanders right here in Zimbabwe.
(SS) Which teams did you play for during your playing time?
(EK) I was in second division teams and at that moment they were very big clubs but now they are not very big clubs because of financial problems like many clubs in Netherlands face financial problems and they are small clubs.
(SS) What was your first coaching job?
(EK) My first coaching job was at Heracles Almelo. It’s now a top club in the Netherlands. I coached the Under-17 and 19s. I was the scout of the year for junior teams from seven years old and my job was watching the talents to bring to the club and I was also their coach. I acquired my coaching certificates and to get the coaching certificates you have to work with a club for two or three months for nothing. This job, if you want to learn, you have to do that.
(SS) And after that, what other coaching jobs did you take up?
(EK) Ooh yes, you going too much. I know of HVV Hengelo, I know of Twello, Barbaros they are many clubs when you have started 20 years, it’s too long.
(SS) You have not been outside Netherlands?
(EK) No, this is the first time I have been out of Netherlands and after 50 years I was thinking I am going to try outside and before I did that I had to look for a lot of information. How is it to work in Africa, all the countries in Europe and I had to ask all my friends and decide.
(SS) Before you came here, how did you find out about Highlanders?
(EK) Before I came here all the information I could get was from the internet and from Facebook. I don’t know much about the players.
(SS) Were you following the club during that time?
(EK) Yes yes, when you decide to work together, of course you will know what happens in every game. Little information was also good enough.
(SS) How were you received by the people of Bulawayo — the supporters and the technical team?
(EK) The first day was very nice. I was actually a little bit shocked. There were many people. The press was there. I was expected a day or two before and three days later the press was there and they waited for me at the airport. I was a little bit surprised. That means Highlanders are a very good club and very big club and yes, it means it makes me happy to work here.
(SS) Compared to the level of coaching that you have done back in Netherlands, what do you make of Zimbabwean football?
(EK) In Netherlands we like possession play because in Netherlands we have good players; also we have to deal with possession play. We have to do with how good we can work as a team, if we can forget then we cannot win.
(SS) What do you make of the kind of football we play in Zimbabwe?
(EK) What I see in Zimbabwe, if you think that you want to win, then you have to attack and if you think you don’t want to lose, then you have to defend. In Zimbabwe the thinking is I don’t want to lose, they don’t say, I want to win. If you say I don’t want to lose, then you have to defend. You see it on the score, it’s always 1-1, 0-1, 2-1, sometimes 3-1 but not too much. That is why I was thinking that they want to play football not to lose.
(SS) This is your first season with Highlanders. What can they expect?
(EK) What they can expect is that I want to teach the guys a little bit of European football so that all they think about is European football. Of course every coach has their own style of football and I have my style also, but my tempo of football is high, good possession play and I hope we can score many goals.
(SS) Are you happy with the players that you have?
(EK) Of what I have seen, I am very happy with them.
(SS) In terms of them fitting in your type of play?
(EK) At this moment, I have no criticism for the players. I think it’s too early.
(SS) The guys that you are working with, your assistant and technical advisor, how has been your relationship?
(EK) I’m not a difficult man and of course I am the head coach and I have the responsibility of everything and of course I’m not a one man show. I believe in team work and also I work with him (Zulu) and Soma Phiri — we are a team
(SS) Have you studied the other teams in the league?
(EK) I have only seen the three or four teams in the league and not the other teams. We don’t hear anything about African football in Netherlands.
(SS) What do you make of the football fields in Bulawayo?
(EK) The training field is a big problem and if you want to do well in football, you have to train on a nice pitch and this is a big problem in Zimbabwe.