Battling with the stars

Throughout his successful coaching career in Greece, Dusan Bajevic has often been accused by adversaries of not being able to cooperate with high-profile players. Yet it must be said that the man himself – who led AEK to four league titles between the late 1980s and mid-’90s, then continued raking in titles for Olympiakos, moved to PAOK for one Greek Cup, spent a brief second tenure at AEK, and is now back at Olympiakos – has probably grown tired of hearing about this handicap. The issue re-emerged recently following a heated reaction from Rivaldo, Bajevic’s star Brazilian at Olympiakos, who publicly condemned his coach’s strategies after being substituted. True, there have been many cases of conflict between Bajevic and stars. But a closer look reveals the true causes. Prior to leaving AEK for Olympiakos, Bajevic had feuded with one of his leading players there, Refik Sabanajovic. Bajevic, however, did not allow the incident to stop his new club from acquiring the gifted player in the summer of 1996, when he moved to Olympiakos for the first tenure. «Things get back to normal after two or three days. I remember a match in Philadelphia [AEK’s old home ground] against Rangers. We won 2-0 but I had a problem with him,» Sabanajovic recalled. «But just days after any trouble, it was forgotten. Bajevic is always interested in the team’s well-being,» the veteran defender added. Stelios Manolas, a former defender who had experienced several run-ins with Bajevic at AEK, reiterated Sabanajovic’s view. «The reasons we argued had to do with the team,» said Manolas, nowadays coach of Greece’s Under-21 squad. Contrary to the belief of some, Bajevic has not sought to ruin players’ careers following friction. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth, as highlighted by the case of Slovenian Zlatko Zahovic. Bajevic had pressured Olympiakos to sign the player. But Zahovic, behaving like a spoilt child after some tension, prompted Bajevic’s end at Olympiakos – the first tenure – in November 1999. Months later, Olympiakos ended its contract with Zahovic after the conceited character continued generating other problems at the club. While the two were still working together, Bajevic had been criticized by many, including club president Socrates Kokkalis, of not being capable of working with the decent and worthy Slovenian. Now, during his second tenure at Olympiakos, Bajevic faces the tricky task of managing his squad’s prospectively volatile Latin contingent. With the exception of Argentinean Gabriel Schurrer, the others, Brazilians Rivaldo and Giovanni, as well as Uruguayan Nery Castillo, seem to require delicate handling. Prior to the current season’s start, Kokkalis, the club’s boss, offered support for Bajevic by calling him the team’s chief. Time will tell.