Ted Dumitru, innovative coach in South Africa, dies at 76

By | May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment

Ted Dumitru, SAFCA Technical Advisor during the South African Football Coaches Association at SAFA House, Johannesburg on 22 October 2014 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Ted Dumitru at the South African Football Coaches Association, SAFA House, Johannesburg on 22 October 2014 © Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Ted Dumitru, the Romanian-born coach who had a successful career in South Africa, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack on Thursday at Eastgate Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.

“Throughout our conversations over the years,” recalls Zola Doda in a touching tribute published on Kick Off magazine’s website, “Ted didn’t talk a lot about his country of birth, Romania, which came across as strange to me in the beginning. All he spoke about was South Africa and the African continent as a whole—but over a period time I learned to understand how much he really loved this country and this continent.”

Having coached briefly in the U.S., where he acquired citizenship,  Dumitru took the helm of Zambia’s national team in 1981 and later that of Swaziland. He arrived in apartheid South Africa to coach Kaizer Chiefs in 1986, a time of mass protests and army troops deployed in the black townships. Dumitru went on to win four league titles, with Sundowns (1997-98 and 1998-99) and Chiefs (2003-04 and 2004-05), and also had a brief stint as national team coach.

Beyond his clubs’ successes, Dumitru had a major impact on South African coaching education and on youth development. I saw this personally and tracked it over two decades in South Africa and from overseas.

I first met Ted Dumitru in 1995.  A friend I had met on the soccer pitch at Wits University took me to the South African Football Association’s first coaching certification course held at the School of Excellence. I was introduced to Dumitru, then the Director of Coaching at SAFA, who was dressed in his typical sweatsuit-and-baseball cap attire. As soon as he learned of my work on the history of football in South Africa, he asked me to return the following morning and give a formal presentation to the coaches. Dumitru believed a country needed to know its football history in order to develop its national identity.

The next day I faced an engaged audience that included Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe,  Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu,  Neil Tovey and many other legendary figures in the South African game. If that context wasn’t intimidating enough, I was also scheduled to follow the charismatic Clive Barker, then-national team coach who, a few months later, would lead Bafana Bafana to their first (and still only) African Nations Cup title.

Dumitru introduced me in a graciously professional and courteous way, which made me feel less intimidated by the moment and helped set the tone for what turned out to be a constructive session and dialogue among the participants.

During that visit, I learned of Dumitru’s background in Romania in the late 1960s and 1970s. I listened to him discuss the emergence of “scientific football” as popularized by Valeriy Lobanowski, the legendary coach of Dynamo Kiev and the USSR. At the time, it was a pioneering approach. It brought together empirical data, computer technology, Soviet collectivist ideology, and Dutch total football. It transformed the way Dumitru conceived, organized, and managed football teams. As Jonathan Wilson succinctly puts it, “football was less about individuals than about coalitions and the connections between them.”

To his credit, Dumitru’s experiences in southern Africa altered his football philosophy and practice to reflect local conditions. Dumitru passionately believed in the technical proficiency, dynamism, and creativity of local players. He spent much of the latter part of his career teaching both young boys and adult coaches how to draw on these strengths while combining them with aspects of scientific football. In the words of Mark Gleeson, Dumitru became “an outspoken proponent of the establishment of a so-called ‘ South African style of play’ with heavy emphasis on individual flair.”

This emphasis was clearly demonstrated before my eyes again in 2010—a magical year for South Africa as it successfully hosted the first World Cup played on African soil. Dumitru came to Pietermaritzburg to help train local coaches and in the process supervised a training session at the Izichwe Youth Football program, where I was involved. His principles were put into action, as he encouraged each and every player to think about space, quick decision-making, smart passing, confidence in dribbling, relationship with teammates, and to be unafraid of expressing joy on the pitch. When one boy scored a mesmerizing goal but did not celebrate, Dumitru encouraged him to do so: “Soccer is supposed to be fun!” he exclaimed.

Dumitru, of course, had his shortcomings. According to Gleeson, he was perceived by many as “dogmatic” and few can forget his public statement that South Africa’s first-round exit from the 2006 African Nations Cup was partly due to the fact that “my players don’t know how to play in the rain.”

Even so, Dumitru should be remembered as an innovative coach who left an important legacy in South Africa. He introduced new ideas from eastern Europe at a time when the country was isolated from international football and when South African coaching was dominated by English-speaking whites. Dumitru stands out as a rare white coach who genuinely believed in decolonizing South African football. To the end, he practiced what he preached. At the time of his passing, Dumitru was in town to give a speech at the South African Football Coaches’ Association Youth Coaching Seminar at Johannesburg Stadium.


Gordon Igesund named Bafana Bafana coach

By | July 3rd, 2012 | 12 Comments

It’s official: Gordon Igesund is the new Bafana Bafana coach. The well-travelled Durbanite was the outright favourite for the job, and his appointment is the climax of what has been a remarkable coaching career.

Igesund’s first coaching job was in 1985 as a player-coach for Witbank Aces. For the next 11 years, he mainly coached modest teams battling to avoid relegation, sometimes unsuccessfully. In 1992 he won the NSL Second Division title with D’Alberton Callies, but his rise to prominence began in 1996-97 when he guided Durban’s Manning Rangers to the inaugural PSL title. More league honors followed at Orlando Pirates (2001-02), Santos (2001-02), and Sundowns (2006-07), which made Igesund the only coach to annex the championship with four different PSL clubs.

His appointment as the national team coach on a two-year contract comes on the back of an impressive stint at the helm of Moroka Swallows. The fabled Soweto team sent Igesund an SOS eighteen months ago when they found themselves at the bottom of the table nearly halfway through the season. Igesund masterminded The Dube Birds’ great escape, and this season they had an astonishing year, finishing an agonising second to Orlando Pirates.

It is Igesund’s heroics at Moroka Swallows that SAFA expect him to emulate with beleaguered Bafana Bafana, currently ranked 68th in FIFA’s world rankings. South Africa’s qualification bid for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is in serious jeopardy after draws against Ethiopia and Botswana. While South Africa’s hosting of the next edition of the African Nations Cup guarantees Bafana Bafana’s participation, there is well-founded anxiety in the country over the threat of an uninspiring showing in the tournament.

“The bigger picture is the 2013 AFCON and qualifying us for Brazil 2014,”declared SAFA President, Kirsten Nematandani, at Igesund’s unveiling. It’s the same brief former Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane was given two years ago. As SAFA made abundantly clear to Igesund, should the national team fail to reach the semi-finals of the African Nations Cup next year, then he will join Mosimane on the growing list of former Bafana coaches, which now stands at eighteen.

Igesund’s pedigree gives many South Africans hope that, despite recent results, he is indeed the manager who can lead Bafana to the continental crown and to the World Cup in Brazil. He is a wily old fox who has paid his dues in the trenches. He knows how to nurture self-belief and instil a desire to win into any team under his tutelage, regardless of available talent and financial resources. We wish him good luck in his new position.

There is a problem, however, that Igesund cannot solve even if he ends up meeting his new employers’ lofty objectives. That is, SAFA’s understanding of the “bigger picture” in domestic football is confined to four-year cycles for the men’s senior national team (or in this case a two-year cycle). But local football needs sound management, serious youth development for boys and girls, better coaches’ training, and infrastructural improvements at the grassroots. In other words, the goals SAFA has set for Igesund are no more than an attempt at a quick-fix solution.

SAFA would have done better to concede their administrative shortcomings, apologize for the dismal state of football in the country, and state that Igesund is the best bet for turning hapless Bafana Bafana into a winning team. Instead, SAFA hired the country’s most decorated coach and required him to take one of the least feared teams in Africa to the semi-finals of the continent’s premier tournament and then to the World Cup. While there is no question of Igesund’s success as a club coach, it would not be surprising if, after the 2013 African Nations Cup, he were to become the 19th Bafana coach in 20 years.

Bafana Coach Fired, Now What?

By | June 7th, 2012 | 4 Comments

Guest post by Mohlomi Maubane

The Germans regularly find a way to excel in tournaments and are among the favourites to win the Euros in Poland/Ukraine. The South African football fraternity would do well to take a page out of the playbook that produced the current incarnation of Die Manschschaft when appointing a new Bafana Bafana coach. SAFA fired Pitso Mosimane this week after Bafana Bafana could only muster a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Rustenburg.

Eight years ago, the German national team was in dire straits after failing to win a single match in the group stages of the 2004 Euros. A rebirth seemed inevitable, and the newly appointed technical team of Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw pursued it with typical German precision.

Their first step was to give Die Manschschaft a new identity. The duo settled on a style based on playing the ball on the ground and transitioning swiftly from defence to attack. This was the outcome of an extensive consultation process. Workshops were held with German coaches and players to inquire how they wanted to play and how they wanted to be seen to be playing by their fans (and international ones too). Members of the German public also enjoyed the opportunity to provide input on how they wanted the national side to play.

From this inclusive process, Klinsmann and Löw drafted a curriculum for German football that was presented to the Bundesliga and the German FA. The latter then pressured teams in the former to build academy programmes that adhered to the overall strategy. Bundesliga teams were also encouraged to adopt a fitness programme that enabled the philosophy to be implemented. The newly appointed Under-21 coach also had to abide by the new policy.


Spotlight on African Coaches

By | December 9th, 2011 | 5 Comments

Editor’s Note: This post begins a multi-part series on African coaches.

Continuing with Pitso is Regressing

Guest Post by Mohlomi Maubane

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA — In a recent issue of Kick Off, South Africa’s leading soccer magazine, Editor Richard Maguire argued against firing Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane (in photo above). Pitso, of course, is singularly responsible for South Africa’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup finals (aka The Comedy in Nelspruit). I have been collecting Kickoff since high school. As a magazine, it expects vision, competence and innovation from every member of the South African football fraternity; hence the editorial vouching for Pitso to stay on as Bafana Bafana coach was surprising.

The crux of Maguire’s argument is that Mosimane should remain in charge for the sake of continuity. I say there should not have even been a beginning. Mosimane’s coaching success has been overblown. At club level, he led well-endowed Supersport United to five cup finals, losing three, and at national team level he was an assistant coach during a mediocre run from 2006 to 2010, when Bafana sunk to 90th in the FIFA World Rankings.

The ridiculous manner in which South Africa failed to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup finals showed Mosimane to be as unprofessional as his employers. How can a national coach fail to read or grasp competition rules? This is a man who thinks of himself as a “modern” coach always in step with the latest developments in the world game. Perhaps common sense is not part of the curriculum of the courses Mosimane often brags of attending. And for all his supposed keeping abreast with the latest trends in the game, Mosimane’s idea of “global football” is confined to the English Premier League and La Liga.

SAFA appointed Pitso Mosimane as Bafana Bafana coach soon after the 2010 World Cup. At the time, there was talk of the dawn of a new era in South African football. In truth, there was the usual lack of specific detail on how to make this new epoch come about. Instead, SAFA officials spoke at length about Vision 2014, Bafana Bafana’s campaign to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. The seven other national teams under SAFA’s auspices were left unmentioned. Now, a year after the Vision 2014 was unveiled, we are a joke in the football world.

More than anyone else, it was Mosimane’s job to ensure Bafana qualified for 2012. He was entrusted with the troops and should have known the rules of engagement. When he was introduced as the new Bafana coach after the World Cup, Mosimane was his typical pompous self, saying he did not expect favors from anyone, he knew his mandate, and that he wanted to be judged by the results. Here are the Nations Cup results: 2 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss, 4 goals scored, 2 against. Having failed to qualify, his story has now changed. In his first press conference after the Comedy in Nelspruit, Mosimane had the audacity to say he did not fail because South Africa finished top of their group! That Bafana actually failed to qualify was in the past; it was time to move on, he said.

Indeed it is time to move on, and perhaps it is best to do so with a coach who reads and understands the rule book; one whose trophies and coaching acumen supersede his chest-thumping bravado. Pitso Mosimane has been in the national structures for more than five years and South African football would not be served well by a continuation of his underachievement.

If Mosimane were a football journalist and wanted to write for Kick Off, I suspect Maguire would send him away with the disdain he probably feels when the magazine has to document yet another SAFA cock-up.

South African soccer tragicomedy continues after the 2010 World Cup

By | February 8th, 2011 | 2 Comments

By Mohlomi Maubane

The 2010 World Cup was heralded as the dawn of a new era in South African football. This new epoch was to be devoid of the old amateurish ways in the local game where officials “forget” to perform rudimentary tasks like erecting corner kick flags for an international match. But alas, as the events of the past week have shown, it’s not yet Uhuru.

A few weeks ago, the wise chaps at SAFA announced an upcoming friendly against Burkina Faso, 41st in the FIFA rankings. Problem is they seem to have forgotten to confirm this news with the intended opponents. When they did eventually contact the Burkinabe FA last week to “finalize” arrangements for the match, SAFA officials found out the West African country already had a fixture against Cape Verde on the same day. A scramble to find a “replacement” ensued. So now in preparation for a crucial AFCON qualifier against Egypt in March, on Wednesday (Feb. 9) at the Royal Bafokeng stadium outside Rustenburg Bafana Bafana will instead square up against mighty Kenya, ranked 127th by FIFA.

Speaking of the first World Cup host team to be eliminated in the first round, Bafana Bafana will soon be trading under a different name. Why? SAFA failed to register the team’s nickname. Instead, a shrewd businessman named Stanton Woodrush owns the copyright and is not playing ball, unless he is handsomely rewarded for being the first to register the Bafana name with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Simply put, SAFA are a disgraceful bunch. Despite the election of a new leadership in September 2009, the association failed to secure a training camp for Bafana Bafana in preparation for the 2010 World Cup; failed (again) to submit votes for the FIFA World Player of the Year awards; and failed to send a confirmation letter to CAF stating their intention to send the national Under 23 team to participate in the All-Africa games.

Perhaps, the overall state of the nation and its favourite pastime is best symbolized by the postponement of a Chiefs vs. Swallows game scheduled for February 5 at FNB Stadium – known as Soccer City during the World Cup – due to the theft of electric cables that left the stadium without power. Soccer City was a showpiece of South Africa’s technological sophistication and, with its calabash shell exterior, a monumental symbol of Africa’s first World Cup. The circumstances that led to a domestic league game being postponed there less than nine months after hosting the 2010 World Cup final, together with SAFA’s latest foibles, illustrate vividly how in South African football the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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South Africa “forgets” to vote for FIFA awards

By | January 11th, 2011 | 3 Comments

Mzansi Football and Kickoff.com report that the captains and coaches of South Africa’s men’s and women’s national teams failed to cast their vote for FIFA’s Golden Ball as the World’s Player of the Year awards are now known. According to the governing body, the 2010 World Cup hosts were one of just a handful of countries (out of 208) that did not vote. The awards went to Lionel Messi for the second year in a row and Marta for the fifth (?!) year in a row.

“It is the latest botch up by SAFA since the World Cup and makes a mockery of claims the association’s new leadership would bring a new efficiency to the running of the game,” writes kickoff.com. “They failed to enter the country’s teams in the All-Africa Games qualifiers and had to scramble to the Confederation of African Football in Cairo to get a backdoor entry when Namibia withdrew.” Read the full, thoroughly embarrassing details here.

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Wanted: a Moses for Bafana Bafana

By | October 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment


Bafana’s Brazilian coach, Joel Santana, is out of a job. Pallid performances and pitiful results sunk the former Flamengo coach. “In the bigger picture and the interest of the country,” said Mandla Mazibuko, SAFA vice-president, “he [Santana] realized while he was doing his best, his best was not good enough.”

Hand-picked by Bafana’s previous coach and fellow brasileiro Carlos Alberto Parreira, Santana lasted 18 months at the helm of the national side of the 2010 World Cup host country. His most notable achievement was a 4th-place finish in the 2009 Confederations Cup, which some critics opined was assisted by a lucky draw that placed South Africa in a group with minnows New Zealand and Iraq.

Football-mad South Africans have every reason to be worried. A few months before the World Cup and Bafana are rudderless and adrift. SAFA’s decision about Santana’s successor may be announced on Friday. Parreira is lurking in the shadows.

Update (10/24/09): Back to the Future : Parreira’s officially back.

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