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