By Mehluli Sibanda
He made such a huge impression in the four months at Highlanders, to an extent that the hard to please Bosso supporters nicknamed Hendrik Pieter de Jongh “Hlabangana” as a sign of his acceptance into the country’s oldest football club.
De Jongh led Highlanders to a respectable sixth position on the log after a disastrous start under club legend Madinda Ndlovu which got even worse when he left for Botswana with the post given to Mandla Mpofu on an interim basis.
The Dutchman presided over 11 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League matches for Highlanders since he came in at the end of September. He won four, drew five and lost one.
His biggest achievement was winning the Chibuku Super Cup where he was in charge of Bosso’s four matches in the competition, with a 1-0 triumph over Ngezi Platinum Stars in the final played at Barbourfields.
Bosso fans were very much looking forward to achieving even greater things with “Hlabangana”.
Some Highlanders supporters even believed that they could win the championship with De Jongh in charge. The Highlanders leadership did the right thing by offering De Jongh a new contract that would have seen him in charge for the entire 2020 season.
Even those responsible for paying his salary, which is said to have been in the region of
US$4 000 per month are said to have been prepared to increase their package.
All seemed well, with Highlanders chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube informing Sunday News Sport that he had even discussed plans for this season with De Jongh who had told him which players he needed at the club and those he did not require.
Dube was confident then that De Jongh would sign the new contract. Yet others warned that there were distractions in his way with FC Platinum, a club with better financial muscle than Highlanders talking to De Jongh to replace Norman Mapeza since Lizwe Sweswe was still in charge of the three times in a row champions on an interim arrangement.
While De Jongh had taken to Twitter to deny any links to FC Platinum, it seems talks had taken place between him and the Pure Platinum Play. Bosso’s fears became a reality on 22 December when the Dutchman announced that he was not extending his stay and was taking another challenge at the start of the season.
It did not take time for the media to figure out that the challenge De Jongh was talking about was FC Platinum where it was confirmed that he was taking over at the start of the year. He was eventually unveiled as the new FC Platinum coach last Monday.
A number of accusations, chief among them being that he wants to raid Highlanders for their star players like Prince Dube and Peter Muduhwa have surfaced. It is even said in his negotiations with the FC Platinum hierarchy, De Jongh promised to bring with him some of the Highlanders who played a huge part in Bosso’s turnaround.
Sunday News Sport then last Thursday took advantage of his presence in Bulawayo for his team’s continental match against Egyptian giants Al Ahly to ask him to respond to these and other allegations being thrown at him.
De Jongh, however, declined to speak about Highlanders, which to him is a closed chapter.
“Highlanders is finished, the book is closed. I am head coach of FC Platinum, I talk only over FC Platinum not over Highlanders, it is finished,’’ he said.
To De Jongh, all he is focused on now is FC Platinum where he seems happy with the professionalism which he says is being exhibited by the authorities there. He feels he made the right choice by declining the Highlanders offer and taking up the FC Platinum challenge.
“I am the head coach for FC Platinum, that has my 100 percent focus. I am very happy that it was the right choice to make to coach FC Platinum because the feeling was that I see that in everything the club is top professional, they treat me very well in everything, they have a good selection, they are ambitious, we hope that this season is successful,’’ he said.
De Jongh wants his new team to play a flowing game whose ultimate aim is to win games but he is aware it would not be easy to achieve this. He also wants FC Platinum to start making an impression on the international scene.
“First intention is to play passing football and we want to try everything to win, not easy, because there are more good teams, we are hopeful, we want everything to come, that is the league and the cup. Steps to make international football, it’s not easy but that is what we want with excellent football.”
One thing for certain is that Highlanders fans cannot wait to face their former coach. That wait is sure not to be long with the two teams to clash in the Castle Challenge Cup before the start of the season.
De Jongh wants that contest between the winners of the league title and Chibuku Super Cup winners to be staged at Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane. It is yet to be seen where the first meeting between De Jongh and his former team will take place. Sunday News