The Sunday News
Phineas Mukwazo Talking Sport
AMIN Soma-Phiri is arguably the longest serving player at Highlanders having donned the Bosso colours from 1985 to 1997. At the twilight of his career he played alongside the likes of Zenzo Moyo, Bekithemba Ndlovu, and Gift Lunga (jnr), who were part of the team that went on to win the PSL championship four times on the trot from 1999 to 2002.
On discovering that Bosso had promoted enough juniors, Soma-Phiri, who is also a former Highlanders FC team manager and now qualified coach, hung up his boots.
It was because of such remarkable credentials that when I bumped into him in the city centre last week, I could not let slip the chance to engage the Highlanders legend on the goings on at the troubled and oldest football institution in the country.
I first asked him about the petition doing the rounds in a bid to bring the Highlanders AGM forward.
“It is within their (those behind the petition) rights provided their actions conform to the constitution of the club. Highlanders is owned by the people and the people are the ones responsible for which direction their club should take,’’ he said.
On the current goings on at the club and the team performance?
“The team has been pathetic and one wonders what is going on. One thing for sure is that the problems that have hit Highlanders are definitely beyond the coach (es),” he said.
“It all boils down to bad planning. For starters we knew that after Chan there were some players who were going to leave, top players. It was evident that we would not be with them for a long time.
“We failed to plan ahead of their imminent departure and that became the problem that would haunt us, and it has. We knew that Milton, Mahachi and Rio were going to leave in June. A collective decision by the executive and the technical team was needed, how to replace the players and where to look for the replacements.
“I’m not blaming Kelvin or the executive, but did they do anything for the betterment of the team?’’
On why his contract as team manager was not renewed?
“I was not told the reason why it (contract) was not renewed, but at the same time I am not saying the one who replaced me is not competent. Maybe I needed a second chance, perhaps there is a good reason but it should show through results. Up to now even the chairman is not aware why my contract was not renewed.”
“During our tenure, we had regular meetings with the boys; there were fines for those who failed to toe the line. However, as I have indicated earlier the problems at Highlanders are beyond the coach. Mathe (Mark) is not a bad coach.
“When Kaindu left Highlanders we were perched at number four on the log with six games left. Only three points separated us from the log leaders, but the only problem I saw with Mathe was that he wanted to experiment. Why? When he played Innocent Mapuranga as anchorman, what was he trying to prove?
“During our playing days Oxo (Peter Nkomo, current Highlanders goalkeepers’ coach and Willard (Khumalo, current manager) were brave characters who didn’t want to lose. We had a code kaliphele linjalo, which inspired us a lot. When we took the lead, it was always difficult to beat us. Oxo, as our captain, had the guts. There were times when we said to ourselves we do not need a coach to win, but as warriors we should win at all costs for the cause of our club, our great institution, our families, the supporters. We believed that we should be men enough to conquer.
“Cup matches were just like money games. If you either made mistakes or you were not putting much effort, Oxo (then captain) would shout at you singadliwa ngiyabuya ngizo kudla ngini (if we lose, I will come and feed at your place). That was the spirit. I wonder why Willard and Oxo are not imparting that to the youngsters.
“Gumede (current CEO) as chairman he would come and address us as players when he felt something was amiss and he would say sifuna imali lina aliyifuni? He had the hands-on approach.
On the current crop of players?
“Highlanders have good players. I refuse to accept the notion that there are no able personnel. What is needed is good rapport between the executive, players and the technical department.
There should be a collective belief between the technical department, players and the executive. But the situation that obtains now is disturbing, kuyafihlelwana.”
Then I asked him what should be done to take Highlanders back to its glory years?
“There is a Chinese proverb which says: ‘If your plan is for one year plant rice, if your plan is for 10 years plant trees, if your plan is for one hundred years educate children and start now’.
“Highlanders should plan for the future. They should have players who have the Highlanders’ culture at heart. During our days there were only a few ‘outsiders’ such as Morgan Phiri and Benjamin Mpofu. But in the whole the team was dominated by players from our junior ranks.
“The powers that be should make decisions, and avoid mistakes. They should not make decisions that are driven by emotions. Themba Ndlela (former chairman) put up a promising coaching department which was destroyed by the new executive, because of those emotional decisions.
“Ukuthi ucoach ukhetwe ngubani is not important. Charles Sibanda is also the club’s top goal scorer with 12 goals so far. The executive should not let him go, but build a team around his 12 goals next season. He has shown us that he can find the nets and Highlanders should just find somebody who can complement his efforts.
“No one needs to be reminded that the people want to see a rejuvenated Highlanders next season,’’ concluded Soma-Phiri.