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From ‘no strategy’ to a youth strategy – Brookstone explains Highlands Park’s signings

Owen Da Game coach of Highlands Park and Larry Brookstone during the National First Division match between Highlands Park and University of Pretoria on 07 April 2018 at Makhulong Stadium.
Owen Da Game coach of Highlands Park and Larry Brookstone during the National First Division match between Highlands Park and University of Pretoria on 07 April 2018 at Makhulong Stadium.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Highlands Park wanted to bring in youthful players with a hunger to prove themselves‚ who could serve the club with longevity‚ CEO Larry Brookstone has said explaining the promoted Premier Soccer League team’s signings.

Highlands‚ who have bounced back to the PSL a year after relegation as runaway champions of the 2017-18 National First Division (NFD) under Owen Da Gama‚ announced 12 signings this week.

Centrebacks Bevan Fransman (34) from Maritzburg United and Namibian Denzil Haoseb (31) from Jomo Cosmos‚ provide leadership and experience.

Most of Highlands’ signings are talented youngsters from the NFD‚ in a break from the strategy the club had when they were promoted via the playoffs for the 2016-17 season – where Park finished last – when they bought PSL clubs’ ageing rejects.

“OK‚ well‚ the last time we had no strategy‚ to be frank with you‚” Brookstone chuckled.

“Because‚ what do you do? You find yourself in the PSL via the playoffs and the fixtures are out the next day.

“So you kind of say‚ ‘OK‚ well‚ we’d better get what we can get. Who’s available? Come and sign’.

“And I’ll take full responsibility for that – it’s just a fact of life‚ it’s a setback that we’ve got to live with.

He continued: “This time we wanted to get a mixture of experience‚ youth‚ enthusiasm‚ athleticism.

“And also we needed to bring in players with whom who we weren’t going to have to sign another 12 players at the end of this season. We had to look at the longevity of this group.

“There were older players who were available. But our strategy‚ really‚ was that we wanted to get Bevan Fransman‚ because we felt he would be an integral part of what we wanted to do going forward.”

Among NFD players brought in are sought-after playmaker Mlungisi Mbunjana and left-back Ricardo Williams‚ both from Cape Town All Stars.

Nedbank Ke Yona talent search team right-back product Ricardo Versuur and Ivan Mokoena arrive from Super Eagles‚ attacking midfielder Siphesihle Zwane from Mbombela United and centreback Sello Motsepe from Real Kings.

Brookstone said that from competing in the NFD last season Highlands were able to identify the league’s leading talent.

“The players that we brought in from the NFD‚ we’ve monitored them for an entire season. At least half the season‚ or from whenever we played against them.

“So it’s not like we tried to do something on the cheap. We knew what those players were‚ and we knew what we were looking for.

“There was a specific strategy. And I think most players today that are in the PSL did play in the NFD at some stage.

“For example‚ Percy Tau was loaned to Witbank Spurs – and the nest season he was a top player at Mamelodi Sundowns.

“These young players have a hunger to prove themselves. So I’m satisfied with the approach.”

Asked what lessons Highlands learnt when they were first relegated‚ Brookstone replied: “Don’t get promoted via the playoffs.

“That’s why our explicit goal was to win this league [the 2017-18] NFD outright. We put the money and the resources there for that.

“The relegation to me‚ was not a failure. I think it was a blessing in disguise.

“The club had grown too quickly‚ too soon. We didn’t have the foundation‚ the infrastructure and what was required.

“And quite frankly‚ if we had survived‚ we would have just carried on battling each year because we wouldn’t have had the chance to get all our ducks in a row.”

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