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Doncic enjoying Bulgarian experience as Lokomotiv hit top gear

Serbian Danilo Doncic began his coaching career with San Ġwann in season 2006-07.

Serbian Danilo Doncic began his coaching career with San Ġwann in season 2006-07.

Danilo Doncic is a proud Serb but he will always be synonymous with Maltese football. His name is etched into the annals of the domestic game on the back of his scoring exploits in successful spells with Valletta, his first Maltese club, and Sliema Wanderers.

Hailed as one of the most prolific foreign strikers to play in Malta, Doncic brought the curtains down on his playing career over two years ago to concentrate on coaching.

At the time, he was at the outset of his coaching career, having joined modest Division One outfit San Ġwann as player-coach.

After completing his UEFA 'A' coaching course at the MFA technical centre in Ta' Qali, Doncic took charge of Premier League side Floriana before the start of season 2007-08.

Having guided the Greens to a top-six finish in his first year as a full-time coach, Doncic was on the move again last summer, this time to Bulgaria after heeding the call of experienced Serbian coach Dragomir Okuka to be his assistant at Lokomotiv Sofia.

The chance to work alongside a respected manager like Okuka at Lokomotiv, one of Doncic's former clubs, was central to his decision to pursue his career outside Malta.

After a satisfactory start, Lokomotiv went through a lean spell before the winter break but since the restart of the domestic campaign, they have taken the league by storm.

A run of six successive wins has put Lokomotiv's bid for qualification to European football back on track and brought further recognition for the work of their coaching tandem, Okuka and Doncic.

Last weekend, Lokomotiv underlined their rich seam of form with an emphatic 3-0 away win over champions Levski Sofia to move up to third in the table, level with Cherno More Varna on 40 points.

The 39-year-old Doncic feels that Lokomotiv's progress vindicates his decision to link up with Okuka.

"Taking up the post of assistant coach with my former club Lokomotiv was the right decision," Doncic told The Times from Bulgaria.

"My aim was to get back into professional football and until now, I have no regrets about coming back to Bulgaria.

"I was certainly enticed by the prospect of working for Lokomotiv Sofia but the main reason I accepted this job was because I wanted to increase my coaching knowledge by working with Mr Okuka. He's an experienced and respected coach who won league titles in Poland and Serbia and was also in charge of the Serb U-21 team."

Reports in the Balkans claim that Okuka is one of the candidates to replace Srecko Katanec as Macedonia coach.

Although Maltese football is not regarded highly abroad, Doncic is still an avid fan of our Premier League. He still keeps track of results and progress of the leading teams here.

Doncic's involvement with a professional club also seems to have strengthened his belief that Maltese clubs just need to make that extra effort to raise the level of the local game.

"In my opinion, the steps Maltese clubs must follow to become professional are not too complicated," Doncic said.

"There needs to be a serious investment to improve infrastructure so that the training and playing facilities are up to standard.

"Malta should follow Cyprus's example. They began to invest more in football 15 years ago and the authorities there are also doing their bit to help the clubs move forward."

Narrowing his focus to Lokomotiv Sofia's rejuvenation after the winter pause, Doncic said: "We had a very positive winter training programme in Varna and Cyprus. We also signed two good players during the January transfer window, a striker and a midfielder.

"The other reason is that we've been working with virtually the same men for six months and things fell into the place after the winter break."

Lokomotiv signed Daniel Bogdanovic last summer after the Malta striker impressed during a trial.

Bogdanovic's stay with Lokomotiv lasted only five months as in the final week of January, he sealed a move to English Championship side Barnsley.

Doncic is keen to progress in his coaching career and his positive impact on Lokomotiv Sofia is likely to open new horizons for the ambitious Serb.

Asked about his plans beyond the current season, Doncic replied: "I haven't really started to think about next season. Things can change quickly when you're in the coaching business. Today you're a hero, the next day you're a flop.

"All depends on the results of the team you're coaching.

"My contract with Lokomotiv is for one year with an option for another one. There's the possibility of me staying here for another year but I will weigh up my options once the season is over."

Doncic doesn't rule out a return to coaching in Malta.

"I believe everyone knows that Maltese football is close to my heart," he said.

"I would certainly be interested in coaching in Malta if there's a serious approach. But it has to be the right offer, not only from a financial point-of-view, but also in terms of the plans and objectives of the prospective employers."

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