Jozef Vuku­sic

The new Polok­wane City coach de­scribes his unique jour­ney to South Africa, and what he hopes to achieve with Rise and Shine.

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

Polok­wane City coach Jozef Vuku­sic didn’t have the best of starts to his time in Lim­popo, los­ing his first two games of the sea­son which im­me­di­ately sparked doubts about his ca­pa­bil­i­ties in South Africa’s top-flight. Is he the right man for the job? KICK OFF’s Love­more Moyo finds out.

Many coaches ar­riv­ing in the PSL from Europe are usu­ally greeted with the ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing mer­ce­nar­ies who are not recog­nised in their coun­tries of ori­gin. The wild­fire al­le­ga­tions usu­ally stem from their in­abil­ity to be hired in the top leagues where they come from and so choose to take chances in South Africa, where they also stand to earn de­cent money. Polok­wane City coach Jozef Vuku­sic didn’t es­cape be­ing thrown into that bo­gus trol­ley de­spite his pro­file re­veal­ing that he is in fact held in high es­teem back home in Slo­vakia. For starters, there is a need to un­der­stand who Vuku­sic re­ally is. The 53-year-old hails from Slo­vakia’s sec­ond-largest city Kosice where he played his en­tire do­mes­tic ca­reer as a mid­fielder at FC VSS Kosice be­fore be­ing en­ticed into coach­ing while fea­tur­ing in the Ger­man lower leagues at the tail end of his play­ing days. “When I was close to 30, I started as a player/as­sis­tant coach at Kosice which made me think se­ri­ously about coach­ing,” Vuku­sic rem­i­nis­cences. “At that time there was an op­por­tu­nity to go and play third-tier league foot­ball in Ger­many which came with the ben­e­fit of do­ing the DFB [Ger­many Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion] li­cence which is fa­mous and not easy to get. I then went on to do my Uefa A Li­cence and then my Pro Li­cence in 2001, which is the high­est in world foot­ball. I then started off at Ger­man club VfL Rhein­bach as a player/as­sis­tant coach, mov­ing into the as­sis­tant coach­ing role full-time soon after be­fore then be­com­ing the head coach. When I fin­ished the Pro Li­cence I then went home and started off with First Di­vi­sion club Li­car­tovce after which I moved up to the top league clubs.” Mov­ing up the ranks In the Slo­vak Su­per Liga, Vuku­sic worked with MFK Ru­zomberok, Spar­tak Tr­nava, Kosice (as sport­ing di­rec­tor) and then had a two-year spell with FC Cape Town in the First Di­vi­sion be­fore head­ing back home to link up with FC Ni­tra and then Rozum­berok. From there he went on to work in Libya, Kaza­khstan and Latvia, while also tak­ing up a po­si­tion as the Slo­vakia na­tional Un­der-21 as­sis­tant coach. “At Kosice we played in the Europa League after win­ning the Slo­vak Cup in 2009 and had Ne­manja Matic at our

club for al­most three years be­fore he joined Chelsea,” Vuku­sic re­veals. “We were the top team in terms of de­vel­op­ment in Slo­vakia, with our first team in the top league and the re­serve team in the First Di­vi­sion. In Latvia I won the league last year and then in Libya, I played in the CAF Cham­pi­ons League with Al-Ahli Beng­hazi,” he makes a note of men­tion­ing. It ap­pears Vuku­sic is of rel­e­vance in Slo­vak foot­ball as well, ac­cord­ing to the man him­self. “In Slo­vakia I was the first coach to ob­tain a Ger­man li­cence, while I have also coached a lot of clubs out­side the coun­try which is not so easy for a Slo­vakian coach,” he says. “In Slo­vakia there are only about four coaches that have coached in other Euro­pean coun­tries. I worked at the high­est level when­ever I was there, I know all the peo­ple and they know me. I am in­ter­est­ing for them be­cause I have the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing coached out­side the coun­try, es­pe­cially when I came here to South Africa in 2010 as it was some­thing un­usual for the Slo­vak coach­ing fam­ily. “At that time, it was spe­cial be­cause the World Cup was here, with Slo­vakia hav­ing also qual­i­fied. Dur­ing that pe­riod I was in the me­dia a lot be­cause ev­ery­body wanted to know in­for­ma­tion from South Africa and I was their voice. When I was the as­sis­tant coach for the Un­der-21 na­tional team, I couldn’t have taken the head coach job be­cause I was the di­rec­tor at Kosice. My re­la­tion­ship with the Slo­vak fed­er­a­tion is very good. Some­times they in­vite me to coach­ing con­fer­ences to make pre­sen­ta­tions on coach­ing philoso­phies,” he says, jus­ti­fy­ing his sig­nif­i­cance in the game in his home coun­try. Mov­ing to Polok­wane After win­ning the Virsliga (Lat­vian top-flight) last year with Spar­taks Jur­mala, Vuku­sic’s in­ten­tion was to be closer to home, only to then find him­self in touch with Polok­wane boss Johnny Mo­gal­adi. “I had fin­ished the Lat­vian league, where they play over the cal­en­dar year,” he starts. “So I was look­ing for op­tions, and to be hon­est, I wanted to coach close to my fam­ily, but it didn’t hap­pen that way. In foot­ball when you want to be home, that is when you get a job far away. In get­ting this op­por­tu­nity, I was di­rectly in touch with the club and we dis­cussed the phi­los­o­phy and what we wanted to do be­fore I agreed to join. For me this is a new ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause last time I was in the First Di­vi­sion, but now I am in the PSL. I am happy to be here.” Vuku­sic says he did some back­ground re­search be­fore putting pen to pa­per with Rise and Shine. “These days it is very easy to gather in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net, plus I knew many peo­ple al­ready in South Africa who could give me more in­for­ma­tion,” he ad­mits. “After that I was di­rectly in touch with the chair­man. I liked it that way be­cause it was a di­rect con­nec­tion. Even in Europe it is bet­ter to know the chair­man or pres­i­dent of the club and com­mu­ni­cate

with him. What was im­por­tant for me in my dis­cus­sions with the chair­man was that the phi­los­o­phy and ideas that we shared were the same. You get the job done eas­ier when in di­rect con­nec­tion with those in charge. I knew what had hap­pened with the club last sea­son and the sea­son be­fore, plus I know South African foot­ball. The club brought in new play­ers and they want to bring more young­sters to the club, so this is a chal­lenge I like.” No-non­sense chair­man With Mo­gal­adi known to be dif­fi­cult to work with and hard to im­press, mur­murs al­ready sur­faced that Vuku­sic could be sac­ri­ficed just two games into the sea­son, both of which had ended in de­feat. “I think our re­la­tion­ship is very good be­cause he loves foot­ball and I love foot­ball, plus we are very pro­fes­sional,” he says. “This job can get dif­fi­cult, but the im­por­tant fac­tor is that there is re­spect. I re­spect the chair­man be­cause I un­der­stand the fact that he has in­vested a lot of money in this club. I also feel that he re­spects me as well and we have even planned for the fu­ture in that even the next coach will work on mak­ing the con­nec­tion from de­vel­op­ment to the first team bet­ter than it is now. So far there have been many ex­cit­ing play­ers that have been brought in that I also want to de­velop into bet­ter play­ers.” The fact that Bernard Molekwa, who had been at the helm since March last year, has now been rel­e­gated to sec­ondin-com­mand will nat­u­rally spark ques­tions about their work­ing re­la­tion­ship. Nor­mally there is fric­tion when a for­eign coach takes over the job of a lo­cal es­pe­cially when re­sults are not forth­com­ing, which ex­plains why most new coaches pre­fer bring­ing their own sup­port staff. “From the first day we cleared the sit­u­a­tion about him hav­ing been the head coach be­fore,” Vuku­sic in­sists. “Hav­ing been with the club longer than me, I think he can help with in­for­ma­tion about what is needed from lo­cal peo­ple. He is work­ing more like a team man­ager now as well. He is happy to still work with me be­cause I can bring the ex­pe­ri­ence. He has told me that he is still in the process of learn­ing, so I think this is a good com­bi­na­tion. I am happy with the te ech­ni­cal team in the two Brazil­ians that we w have (Japhet Borges as fit­ness trainer a nd Mil­ton Nienov as goal­keeper coach) be­cause b they are pro­fes­sional and have the e xpe­ri­ence, hav­ing also been here longer. We W un­der­stand each other.” City fin­ished in the bot­tom half last se ea­son and this term, squeez­ing into the to op eight is what will de­fine progress. “I hope we progress from last sea­son,” he notes. n “Of course it is about re­sults and I am st till pos­i­tive the re­sults will come. I will not c hange the tar­get of reach­ing the top eight th hat we have for this sea­son, even though we w lost the first two games. The sea­son is lo ong, and we will con­tinue do­ing our work.” If there are still ques­tions about the Slo­vak, h his time at FC Cape Town will prob­a­bly give a n even bet­ter un­der­stand­ing about his p phi­los­o­phy and meth­ods. Hav­ing been in line for the Rwanda na­tional n team job, Vuku­sic in­stead moved fu ur­ther south as the African Beasts took him on o board in March 2010 to re­place Johnny F er­reira. He reached the quar­ter-fi­nals of the Ned­bank N Cup to­wards the end of that c am­paign be­fore fin­ish­ing fourth in the F irst Di­vi­sion’s Coastal Stream in his first se ea­son in charge. In his last year at the helm, he ended th he sea­son in eighth at a club that al­ways c ham­pi­oned the cause of young play­ers. “I worked with no-name young play­ers who w had po­ten­tial, but it was sys­tem­atic hard h work with the club hav­ing in­vested a lo ot in them with the in­ten­tion of mov­ing th hem to higher leagues or Europe,” he says. “I I am glad that many of those boys went on to play in Europe, es­pe­cially in Slo­vakia where they knew that if a player came from South Africa, he would be a su­per player.”

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