Voted coach of the year in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League in 2006 and 2013, Francky Dury only devoted himself to the job full-time in 2007, having previously divided his duties in the dugout with his work as a police detective. 

With his days tackling crime now behind him, Dury is laying down the law at high-flying SV Zulte Waregem, having spent over 30 years in the coaching profession in all, starting out in local league football and gradually working his way up the ladder. 

Before earning his first professional contract just six years ago, Dury spent his days investigating burglaries and tackling organised crime as a member of Ghent police force. Once off duty, he would then pull on his tracksuit and lead training sessions in the backwaters of Belgian football.

He made his name as a coach by taking lesser lights SV Zulte-Waregem all the way from the fifth tier of the Belgian league system to the top flight and then steering the semi-professional outfit to the Belgian Cup in 2006. Even then, during Zulte’s first two seasons in the big time, the 55-year-old Flemish coach continued with his day job as a detective.

A man with a vision
Explaining the reasons behind his double life as a crimefighter and a football manager, he told “When you’re coaching in the third and fourth tier, you’ve got no option but to make a living outside football.

“After we got promoted in 2005 everyone thought we’d go straight back down again because we didn’t have a 100 per cent professional set-up,” added Dury, who was in the running to succeed Rudi Garcia at Lille during the close season. “As it turned out though, we won the Cup and the season after that we reached the Round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League, when I still had semi-professional players in the team.

“At that point it all became too hard to do my two jobs to the best of my abilities. It just wasn’t possible and I had to make a choice,” continued Dury, who then decided to put away his cap and pocket book and devote himself to football full-time.

Since I’ve come back I’ve been trying to create a strong identity here, one that ought to last for a long time whether I stay or not.

Francky Dury, Zulte Waregem coach.

He stayed at Zulte until 2010, moving on to KAA Gent for one season. Then followed a six-month stint as an assistant coach with the Belgian national team, a spell as the Belgian Football Federation’s national technical director and a brief reign as the national U-21 coach. Then, on 30 December 2011, he returned to Zulte, the club where his unusual career took off.

“We had to put a vision back in place,” said Dury: “A club can change coach but not direction. It’s only clubs with an identity that survive.”

The only coach in the Belgian elite to have won championship titles in the second, third and fourth tiers, in 2005, 2002 and 1999 respectively, the dogged Dury has retained a deep love of his job throughout his slow rise to the top, making a virtue of patience and consistency along the way.

“When we finally made it to the first division we had a budget of between three and five million euros,” he explained. “At the time I just had an assistant and a goalkeeping coach to help me out on a day-to-day basis. We learned to watch our money carefully and look for good players. I’ve had to do everything myself, and I’ve been through every phase involved in coaching.”

Making the most of things
Runners-up to Anderlecht last season, Zulte now have a budget of eight million euros to play with and a larger coaching team in place. Since becoming a professional outfit in 2007, the Waregem club has continued to grow, and their coach with them.

Back at the place where he forged his reputation, Dury is in it for the long haul: “The club had three different coaches after I left in 2010, and since I’ve come back I’ve been trying to create a strong identity here, one that ought to last for a long time whether I stay or not. The club wants me to stick around though, and the feeling is mutual.

“The whole of Belgium respects the job we’re doing here and the way we bring on youngsters and give them their chance. That’s why we’ve been able to hang on to Thorgan Hazard and Junior Malanda,” he added, in reference to two of Zulte’s key players in their superb run to second place last season.

“We know they won’t be with us next year though, and we’ve already started looking for new talents. Young players are the future and for a Belgian club like ours that’s the best economic model there is.”

Six years after handing in his detective’s badge, Dury says he feels “happy, proud and fortunate”, factors that have all helped him to stay motivated.

A rational thinker, the one-time sleuth has learned to adapt to the limitations of his job: “With Zulte, I know what can’t be done. Here you need to take a step back, pause for thought and make do with what you’ve got.”