‘You don’t want a Mario Balotelli in your team‚’ says Highlands coach Da Gama

Highlands Park head coach Owen Da Gama.
Highlands Park head coach Owen Da Gama.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Highlands Park coach Owen da Gama has defended his tendency of insisting on subjecting players for trials‚ even those who are established in the top-flight‚ before handing them contracts.

Da Gama has steered Highlands to their first cup semifinal – in the MTN8‚ where they meet Polokwane City at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday.

Fans and football pundits‚ including former Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana star Josta Dladla‚ have questioned Da Gama’s penchant for trialling seasoned players before signing them.

Established names such as Mandla Masango‚ Mark Mayambela‚ Sifiso Myeni and Issa Sarr‚ among a host of others‚ have trialled with Highlands without success.

Dladla‚ who has 184 appearances and 20 goals across various clubs and competitions and has also played in Europe‚ said in an interview with the SABC last month that he is not a fan of trialling players who have already established themselves.

Reneilwe Letsholonyane during a training session with Highlands Park on August 29 2019.
Reneilwe Letsholonyane during a training session with Highlands Park on August 29 2019.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Dladla argued that if a coach or a club knows a profile of a player that a trial is unnecessary.

But Da Gama thinks otherwise. He believes the trial period is to allow the club and the coach a closer look at assessing the players.

“I think it is all about having that professional respect with players‚” Da Gama said.

“If a player has been a big-name player before and come and ask to train with us‚ to see if he can fit into our system of play‚ then we will give him that opportunity for as long as the player has got the right credentials.”

The Highlands coach said he sees nothing wrong with trialling players first before signing them‚ and insists there is no disrespect intended.

The 58-year-old mentor said a player has got to fit into the way his team play before being signed.

“So we try and ensure there is professional courtesy. You have got to try and draw the line somewhere. A player has got to try and come and enhance what we are trying to do here.

“We want clean-living and honest players‚” Da Gama said‚ adding that the trial period is the time to see if a player is committed or not.

“You don’t want a Mario Balotelli in your team‚” Da Gama said.

The coach said some players are grateful for the opportunity to be seen in training before being signed‚ while others less so.

“There are a lot of players who leave by themselves. We never asked them to leave‚” he said.

“Some of them actually do say that‚ ‘Look‚ I think it is not going to work out for us’. Like Mark Mayambela‚ we never told him to leave.

“He left on his own. Maybe he didn’t like what he had seen here‚ maybe he got another better offer somewhere.”

Highlands Park head coach Owen da Gama with goalkeeper coach Rowen Fernandez and striker Rodney Ramagalela at training.
Highlands Park head coach Owen da Gama with goalkeeper coach Rowen Fernandez and striker Rodney Ramagalela at training.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane‚ who started training with Highlands two weeks ago‚ is the latest high-profile player to be subjected to a trial at the Lions of the North.

Da Gama has thrown down the gauntlet to his employers and asked them to secure the 37-year-old Bafana Bafana 2010 World Cup star‚ who is a free agent after he left SuperSport United at the end of last season.

Da Gama believes the veteran midfielder would be a valuable addition to his team.

MTN8 semifinals -

Saturday:

Polokwane City v Highlands Park (Peter Mokaba Stadium‚ 3pm)

Sunday:

SuperSport United v Mamelodi Sundowns (Lucas Moripe Stadium‚ 3pm).

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