From Soweto to Mamelodi Dolezar is king

Published Dec 16, 1999


Ian sadler

There have not been many figures more familiar over the last couple of years in South African soccer than Paul Dolezar.

He is the coach Kaizer Chiefs' fans couldn't decide whether they liked or not, but ended up loving and labelled him "Mr Million".

He is the man Amakhosi management dumped because R2 million in prize money from two Rothmans Cup triumphs and finishing runner-up in the league the same two seasons was not good enough.

In his two seasons with Chiefs the Yugoslav-born coach went from hero to villain and back again on a weekly basis, but not winning the league and playing second fiddle to arch-rivals Orlando Pirates is the kiss of death for a Chiefs head coach.

When his contract with Amakhosi was not renewed, he stormed out five months ago and joined Sundowns, the team who had twice pipped him for the PSL title - and he hasn't looked back.

Sundowns are three points clear of Pirates at the top of the log with one game in hand and last Saturday won the Rothmans Cup.

Now not only is he revered in Soweto as "Mr Million" and the "Rothmans King", Dolezar has a brand new following of worshippers in Mamelodi.

It was reported at the time Dolezar left Chiefs that many of the players and a good number of the fans were upset. On Radio Metro this week, the coach spent most of the hour-long programme explaining to Chiefs fans why he could not return.

"I receive many calls every week from fans, most of them asking me to go back to Chiefs, a few of them get angry - players also ring me saying they wish I was still there."

When asked if players like Thabang Lebese and Thabo Mooki were among those calling him, Dolezar laughed and said: "I can't say, you would have to ask them."

A call to midfielder Lebese, who blossomed during Dolezar's two-year reign at Chiefs, confirmed that he and Mooki had phoned their former coach.

"This could be a little tricky and I don't want to say too much - it has nothing to do with our coach (Muhsin Ertugral), but yes Thabo and myself have phoned Dolezar a few times recently, that's all I can say."

"I still have a lot of friends at Chiefs and am on good terms with the directors," says the 53-year-old coach who was born in Novi Sad, a Yugoslav city close to the Hungarian border.

"I was brought up there, my mother was German and my father Hungarian - I played soccer for a local team and when I was 16 I went to Holland where I turned professional.

"My first club was Go-Ahead Eagles and then I moved to Heerenveen where Hans Vonk plays - that was in 1967."

Five years earlier he played three times in midfield for Yugoslavia against France, Russia and Bulgaria, but his future was in coaching.

"I did a coaching course in Holland when I stopped playing and trained a team in Belgium from 1973 to 75."

He then moved to France where he set up home with his wife and daughter in Alencon in Normandy and later coached French Second Division club Beziers.

But Africa called and Dolezar headed first for Tunisia, then Morocco and Gabon where he steered AS Sogara to three league championships.

He followed that with a season in Saudi Arabia before arriving at Chiefs where he found the influence of the fans a little too much.

"The supporters in South Africa are too strong sometimes, they want to pick the team, but you cannot work like that."

It is this stance that has endeared Dolezar to his players.

Unlike so many South African coaches, he refuses to bend to the demands of club bosses or the fans.

"He is not persuaded by management and takes no crap from the fans - it doesn't matter if you are Roger Feutmba or Doctor Khumalo, Dolezar will do what he thinks is best," says Marc Batchelor, who recently signed for Sundowns from Chiefs and won a third Rothmans winners medal on Saturday.

"He is one of the best coaches I have worked under. He is always open, there is none of the 'I am the master, you are the student' business and what is also great is he will admit to a mistake."

Sundowns skipper Daniel Mudau can't get enough of Dolezar's methods. "Last season we played some nice football under Ted (Dumitru), but it wasn't effective. Dolezar is strong on discipline and works us hard at training which makes it easier in games - we are more united and stronger," he said.

Goalkeeper John Tlale has noticed the confidence in the men in front of him. "We don't just win games 1-0 or 2-1 now, the guys are feeling good, we are winning by bigger margins."

Wing-back Lovers Motlala likes Dolezar's style off the pitch and the way he sticks to plans. "He is not intimidated by anyone and sticks to his system, you know exactly what he wants you to do - also it is fantastic the way he jokes with the guys at training - he has brought a good balance to the side."

In his five months at Sundowns things have gone from good to better. Helping to make the task easier has been his assistant, Neil Tovey, who captained Chiefs for the two seasons Dolezar was in charge.

The pair have an excellent working relationship.

"With Paul there is no beating about the bush, he gets to know everyone quickly and he lets the players know from day one what he wants," said Tovey.

"The players like a coach who is straightforward and doesn't talk behind their backs - he is a very determined man and his English is getting better."

The coach can speak six languages - French, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Yugoslav and English (though the jury is still out on that) - and cannot wait to be reunited with his wife as well as his daughter and grandson.

"Next Monday I leave for Paris and will see my grandson again - he will be one year old on December 28. His father races cars for a hobby and I have bought him a small Lamborghini for his birthday."

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