Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS players might have been distracted by the strike they embarked on over unpaid winning bonuses prior to their Castle Lager Premier Soccer League match against Black Rhinos which they lost 3-0 in Harare last Wednesday.
Bosso players were given some days off due to the international break. They were meant to resume training on Friday before the fixture but missed two days of fine tuning as they protested over winning bonuses for the Bantu Rovers and Triangle matches. It appears the players had anticipated that the club would settle their dues after the Triangle match at home but that did not happen, prompting them to boycott training.
Highlanders chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube chose a diplomatic approach to the issue, describing it as a conversation they had with the players through their leadership. He is of the view that if the team had won in Harare, that would have resulted in a better crowd for their home fixture against Hwange today.
“It was not really a strike, the players asked to have a conversation around various obligations. The issue is around finances and winning bonuses, we are out by two games specifically the Bantu Rovers and Triangle games. They were inquiring, as has been the norm after every home game, we pay winning bonuses. Unfortunately since our sponsorship was cut we have the junior teams and secretariat to look after. While we are trying to find other revenue streams we will fall behind. People will always view it as a strike, they missed a day of training, we met the captain on Friday. If we had won in Harare, we would have had a better crowd against Hwange (today) but now after the loss we are not sure how the turnout is going to be,’’ said Dube.
One of the senior players confirmed that they stayed away from training for two days because they are owed winning bonuses.
The player, however, said they put maximum effort against Black Rhinos and lost the match due to what he described as minor mistakes.
“We wanted to play against Black Rhinos, we lost because of small mistakes and loss of concentration. We are owed winning bonuses for the Triangle and Bantu Rovers matches, they have promised to pay us after this week’s home game. Before we played Black Rhinos we only trained on Sunday and Monday, we missed training on Friday and Saturday because of the money issue,’’ said the player who asked not to be named.
There is an audio recording doing the rounds where suspended goalkeepers coach Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu is heard shouting at players when they did not want to train last Sunday at Milton High School. Highlanders coach, Erol Akbay substantiated that the players went on strike but he believes that with the way they played against Black Rhinos, the industrial action did not have any effect on how they performed.
“Yes, there was a strike because of players not being paid winning bonuses. We have a problem this year with money, this is no secret, everybody knows it, sometimes when the money is not paid on time players complain, sometimes they strike. These are normal things in football,’’ Akbay said.
Highlanders players are paid $140 each as winning bonuses for victories at home and $170 if they triumph away. In May 2015, Bosso players also embarked on a strike over winning bonuses for three matches then. With their main bankrollers, BancABC having cut their sponsorship this year, Highlanders who are already struggling with a debt of over $800 000 have more financial burden of paying some members of the senior technical team, junior teams coaches as well as the secretariat.
Meanwhile, Akbay has made a plea to the Bosso supporters to come out in their numbers when they play Hwange at Barbourfields this afternoon.
“One thing that is important on Sunday is winning, supporters must come to the stadium. Everybody is complaining about money. That’s why supporters must come to the stadium, we need the $3 from each supporter,’’ appealed Akbay.
Last season, Highlanders took all the six points at stake against Hwange in the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League in what was Bosso coach’s first spell in Zimbabwe. Bosso thumped Hwange 3-0 at the Colliery on the opening day of the season before they triumphed by a similar score line on a rain soaked day at Barbourfields to end 2016 on a high note.
Akbay has a difficult task of motivating his players after the 3-0 thumping at the hands of Black Rhinos at Morris Depot last Wednesday. On top of a players strike before the Rhinos game, Akbay now has his assistants, Amini Soma-Phiri and Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu suspended for twice insulting each other in front of players.
Akbay described the fixture against Hwange like any other but it is crucial because they need the three points to stay up with the leading pack. He believes it does not matter how they play football, all they require are maximum points.
“We have to focus on the next game, they (players) know it also, they played very good football. Only what we are not doing is scoring. Against Rhinos we had our chances, we could have scored five goals but we scored zero. If you see the score it’s like the opponent was dominating, it’s not, they took advantage of our mistakes which is part of football,’’ said Akbay.
The Bosso coach has all the players available for selection with right back Bukhosi Ncube having recovered from injury while striker Roderick Mutuma, who was omitted from the mid-week fixture against Rhinos also up for contention. It is yet to be seen if Akbay sticks with Ariel Sibanda after his number one goalkeeper was blamed for the defeat to Rhinos. Prosper Matutu was in goals when Bosso beat Hwange in the last game of the season in 2016 and Akbay might give him a chance this afternoon. In other matches lined up for this afternoon, Harare City clash with Triangle, Ngezi Platinum Stars meet Bantu Rovers, Chapungu are up against Dynamos, Bulawayo City take on Yadah while Shabanie Mine tackle Black Rhinos.
Today: Harare City v Triangle (National Sports Stadium), Ngezi Platinum Stars v Bantu Rovers (Baobab Stadium), Chapungu v Dynamos (Ascot Stadium), Highlanders v Hwange (Barbourfields Stadium), Bulawayo City v Yadah (Luveve Stadium), Shabanie Mine v Black Rhinos (Maglas Stadium).