It’s really sad to hear about the passing of former Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana coach Teodorescu ‘Ted’ Dumitru. It’s sad because Ted, or Madala as I called him, was more than just a football coach, he was a personal friend.
I first met Ted in 1995 while attending a coaching seminar organised by then Western Province director of coaching Boebie Solomons, and after I joined KICK OFF magazine in May 1999, our friendship just got better and better.
Throughout our conversations over the years, 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.
“Back in Romania, during my secondary school term, I won a national literature award in the category of 'young writers' - the theme was 'War at Christmas'. Then, in my 30s, I had to shift from Romanian to English language and it was a long lasting journey through hell. Even today, whenever I write something I spend more time with the dictionary than actual writing. But I'll master it, for sure. As one would say: It's not the journey but the destination,” Ted told me during our conversation 14 years ago.
After spending a few years in the American Soccer League, Ted moved to Zambia in 1978 where he took over as the national coach. One of his players was Collins Mbesuma’s father Francis Kajiya.
After leaving Zambia he went to Swaziland before taking over as Kaizer Chiefs in coach 1986.
But Ted was more than just a football coach – he was a football scientist in a true sense of the word and was dedicated to his work. And nothing meant more to him than the word “development”. Ironically, this is the very same word that had him at loggerheads with most club bosses.
In 1999, after leading Sundowns to their second league title in a row, Ted caught me by surprise when he resigned as the coach of that great team. My first reaction was ‘this old man is crazy’, and when I asked him about the real reason for his resignation his answer was simple: “It’s because Sundowns decided to close down their development.”
“As you know after only two seasons Sundowns decided to close the academy. It was a real tragedy because most of the players were just about to be promoted to the first team. The day the news reached the families I had more than a dozen calls from desperate parents. Some were accusing me of giving up on the youngsters to keep my position with the club. In disgust, I resigned,” Ted told me.
How many coaches would resign from their jobs because the team decided to close down their development? Not many, and this shows that Ted was a man of principle. But his return to Sundowns a few years later proved just how much he loved Mamelodi Sundowns and perhaps not winning the CAF Champions League in 2001 was one of the biggest disappointments of his career.
When he took over at Kaizer Chiefs in 2003 he knew exactly what he needed to do to take them to the top. And working for Kaizer Motaung meant a lot to him as he felt Motaung understood football better than most club bosses.
“I discovered some interesting facets of his [Kaizer Motaung's] personality as I was part of the club for more than two years. Besides other less prominent positive features, his personality, in my opinion, distinguishes through three passions: (1) an evident passion for the game; (2) passion for successful leadership; and, (3) passion for immaculate own appearance. Other things I noticed, for example, he is a great family man, very good at seizing football's collateral business opportunities.”
When he took over as the Bafana Bafana coach ahead of the 2006 African Nations Cup, his aim was to build a team that would be ready by 2010. Ted took a risk by calling up unknown talents like Tsepo Masilela and Siphiwe Tshabalala because he believed that Bafana were running out of time ahead of the World Cup.
But his vision was not understood by SAFA and by fans in the country. When the team was knocked in the first round of that Nations Cup he was blamed for it. People still talk about the Bafana team that got knocked out and Ted was blamed for that.
There is so much I can say about Ted but there is one thing I can be thankful for: and that is that Ted taught me football. Ted taught me to understand football the way it should be played and I will forever be thankful for that.
Rest in peace Teodorescu Dumitru, Rest in peace Madala, Maximal training lives on.