FEW situations in local football are as surprising as Owen da Gama moving to Highlands Park in the National First Division (NFD). Clearly, this is a coup for Highlands to rope in a former Bafana Bafana assistant coach and national U-23 head coach to help them to the Absa Premiership.
The former Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates coach replaced the duo of Terry Mulondzo and Les Grobler at the club that plays its home matches at Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa. But it’s a step down from Bafana Bafana, the highest coaching job in the country, to the first division with a team placed ninth on the log with six point from five games.
Perhaps Highlands have an insatiable liking for their squad to always be under the tutelage of a former Bafana coach, with Gordon Igesund once running affairs before Da Gama’s arrival. Highland Park is credited with being one of the most professional and ambitious teams in the first division, but landing a coach straight from the national team is either a major coup, or that Da Gama was regarded as not good enough by PSL clubs who clearly had no qualms passing on him.
This is a coach who was entrusted with the best emerging talents in the country at last year’s Rio Olympics, where he coached young stars such as Keagan Dolly, Lebo Mothiba, Abbubaker Mobara, Rivaldo Coetzee, Deolin Mekoa, Mothobi Mvala and Aubrey Modiba. But in seeking a fresh start, after being discarded by Bafana whenz they signed Stuart Baxter as head coach, Da Gama said working with people he trusts was much bigger than just coaching in the top flight.
“I was speaking to two PSL teams and another one in the NFD but Highlands made more sense to me. “I have worked with Larry Brookstone before at Silver Stars and I know most of the guys here. “These are guys I trust and guys who not only trust me but believe and understand me as well.
“So this cannot be a step back. It is a step down but a move forward. I have players I have worked with before, who include Mvala, Seun Ledwaba, Junior Sibande, Petrus Ngebo, so I am at the right team. “The aim now, which will be a process, is getting Highlands back into the PSL. We will not rush it but we believe we can do it,” the former Bafana assistant coach said.
Da Gama’s first test in the NFD will be in Durban on Saturday against Real Kings, before playing a home match against Free State side Super Eagles at Makhulong stadium six days later.