The Man Inside
Srdjan Miljanic, BA, MS


World Championships Feedback – the Coach’s View

Great World championship tournament in Rome is behind us. Dramatic games, lot of surprises, sensations and celebrations…What more can you want from a global sport event. Young Serbian team took the Championship title, Spain was silver, Croatia third and USA maintained its place among top 4 world teams, after the success in the Olympics. Biggest disappointments are definitively Montenegro and Hungary, but on the other hand the biggest surprises came from Germany, Romania and Canada.

The fans and the players said what they had after the games. Now, let’s take a look what do the coaches of top European teams had to say after the tournament, what do they think about the performance of their teams and what is the sport’s and national selection’s perspective.

Dejan UDOVICIC – Serbia
Coach Udovicic - Serbia

After retirement of VUJASINOVIC, SAVIC, SEFIK, SAPIC, CIRIC and the traffic accident that forced Danilo IKODINOVIC to finish his career, the Serbs weren’t considered as favorites for the gold medal by anyone. Besides the changes in the squad, the young Serbian team was led by UDOVICIC who, after few unsuccessful years, resigned as head coach of Partizan Belgrade The most disputed man of the world’s water polo has finally exited the shade of his predecessors and signed his name in the history of the sports – Dejan UDOVICIC became the World Champion with the national team of Serbia!

The new World Champions were defeated by Spain in their first match of the tournament, and the majority of the fans lost the faith in the team after the draw against Australia in the group stage. But, the UDOVICIC’s boys shined when it was most important – in the eight finals they won against the host Italy, in the quarters against the Olympic Champions Hungary, in the semis against the World Champions Croatia and in the final, after a dramatic penalty shoot-out they took their revenge on Spain.

UDOVICIC said that they’ve always believed that they could win, even after the first game against Spain.  

We came to the tournament in a good rhythm, after the Mediterranean Games and the Unicum Cup in Hungary where we took the first places.  The breaking moment happened after the group stage when we faced the fact that in the qualifications we have to play against Italy. At that moment we might have identified ourselves with the basketball players who played against the USA dream team in the quarterfinals of the World Championship in basketball in Indianapolis 2002. We said: Why not!! I believe that the crucial moment was the preparation for the match against Italy and the first two quarters, where we realized we can play against everyone and that result depends only upon us.

UDOVICIC pointed out that he doesn’t have the answer on the question what is needed for the gold medal in the next Olympics, but he stressed that this golden generation is made for a longer period, and that they will continue to play and after 2012. The Serbian head coach believes that there is still a lot of place for improvement, and that the situation will be harder in the future, because the opponents will have a different approach when they are to play against his players.

I think that the basic thing is to provide normal conditions for work, and maintain a normal atmosphere after this huge success. We need to use and focus this positive emotion in the State to improve the infrastructure, because as we speak, there are only few working pools in the country of world champions. Currently there is only one functional in the whole city of Belgrade for 2 million people!!

Besides this team, there is a group of players who played in the Universiade in Belgrade, and in general we have a list of 21-22 players who compete equally to be in the top 13 for the Olympic Games in London.

UDOVICIC explains that the atmosphere in the team is like in a family, where all the players have confidence in each other, and that that was one of the main factors for the final triumph in Rome.  He also pointed out that they gained additional strength from the negative perspective which was formed around them, as well as the underestimating attitudes and disbelief in what they do. 

I wish to thank them also for giving us the additional energy – and this is their success too!!

Serbia World Champs

Dejan UDOVICIC got the biggest gain from this unexpected gold medal. Because, on the assembly of the Serbian water polo federation preceding the World Championships, the president decidedly said that this was the first competition after many years, where the national team will play on a tournament from which they don’t expect not only gold, but not even a medal.

It was hard and it will get only harder. UDOVICIC said. Even if everything around us was ideal, we can’t loosen up because as sportsmen, we have to prove ourselves constantly. In Serbia, the problem is that if it isn’t the gold medal, it ain’t a medal.

We consider our sport in our country as if it has the potential that Yugoslavia or the Federation of Serbia and Montenegro had. When we say that we are the World Champions, we put that in the same basket with the one when Yugoslavia was the Champion in 1986 in Madrid, or 1991 in Perth. And those teams were formed by the players from Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro.

There are different ways of being first. We accomplished that the way we did, and we shouldn’t be compared to no one. That was the approach I wanted from the players when we first assembled. We should honor all the former generations, but we can’t play the way they played 30 years ago, nor can we play how the generation before this played. We can’t make the same style of play again. We should take everything good from our predecessors, and alternate what we can.

Maybe we didn’t play anything special, maybe even Hungary didn’t play spectacular in Beijing, but the first places are won. The players, who became World Champions, overcame the relations with bad connotation; they had confidence among them and in us who lead them. We managed to improve a lot of things, and to hide the bad ones from our adversaries. We saw what we should improve, so there’s more work to be done. And the competition is harder than ever – there are ten equal teams now!  

Ratko RUDIC – Croatia
Coach Rudic - Crotia

 The Croatian coach Ratko RUDIC was bursting of pride after the bronze medal game in the World Championships in Rome, where his players won against USA the third place. He revealed how much this medal means to him personally and to his players who had a series of problems during the entire summer. That was the first bronze medal for Croatia in history, after 6 fourth places on big competitions.

This bronze medal is one of my most precious and dearest medals, and I’ve won the World titles and Olympic gold. The reasons why I hold it so precious are the extremely hard preparations which we went through, where we were facing injury after injury. We had injuries even before the start of the preparations in June, during the summer, but also during the tournament itself. First was ANTONIJEVIC whose injury was reported to the official, and there was also the goalkeeper PAVIC, whose injury we didn’t reveal, and now I can say that he was playing with a broken finger.

Croatian water polo will be in the top of the world’s water polo in the next 10 years.

Considers RUDIC. Why? First of all, we are maybe the strongest in the world concerning young players. Secondly, our national championship is one of the best in the world. All the teams are good, and in all of them there are young players who play. In Italy, for example, the coaches use mostly experienced players in their club competitions.  RUDIC also mentioned to the organizers of the World Championship in Rome, that they neglected water polo, and that they didn’t devote sufficient attention to the game.

Water polo was neglected, and there are a lot of people who love it. It deserves that the semifinal and final matches are played in the big pool, and not at the small one. I mentioned to the Italian organizers also the fact that there wasn’t a special press room on the water polo venue. Water polo should get more attention in all countries, because there are many water polo fans.

Ratko RUDIC has a contract with the federation until the Olympic Games in London 2012, but his thoughts are currently set on the European Championships which will be held next year in Zagreb.

Yes, I have a contract until 2012, but I still don’t know wheatear they will want me that long (laughing), nor wheatear will I want to stay…Concerning the team for the next years European Championships, we played with 12 players in Rome. There were many injuries, we kept losing the players, and some of the good young players like MUSLIM and JOKOVIC stayed in Croatia. They will certainly be with us next year.

Petar POROBIC – Montenegro
Coach Porobic - Montenegro

 This Championship showed that the actual European Champion, and superior winner of this years World League, who seemed recently in Podgorica like he was from another planet, yet just like any other team, that it has its flaws and weaknesses. But nobody couldn’t even imagine that instead of seeing the team of Montenegro battling for gold, like everybody predicted, they touched the bottom, and turned the Rome tournament into their worst nightmare.

Even when we came to Rome I felt that the team doesn’t have the passion, the charge which was present in Podgorica and I knew that that could present a certain problem on this competition. We just weren’t inspired enough. It seems to me that there was a dose of an early satisfaction. That is basically my fault too, because as a coach I had to create an atmosphere that the team had in previous games. We tried to solve that through conversation, we pointed out on certain things, but what happened, happened.

I’m a little afraid how the team will react after this, because it isn’t the problem in work and training, because we practiced better than ever before. But obviously we have to emphasize on some segments of the game. Of course, I will keep the details for myself, because that stays inside the team. Furthermore, we have to change our approach and learn from this result.

When asked if his departure to train a team in Russia affected the contact with the players and interrupted the preparation process, POROBIC answered:

I can only say that it’s not easy to not watch the players for so long and then come to the start of the preparation and go for gold on two big competitions. We won the World League but in the World Championships we did really badly. Anyway, I consider a problem the fact I haven’t had a lot of contacts with the players.

Mr. POROBIC admits that he made a bad judgment after the Olympics, concerning the development of world water polo.

After the Olympic Games, I had a bad judgment, together with some of my colleagues. We thought then that there will be 2, 3 teams who will be isolated in the top. Instead, something that nobody expected happened – 7 or 8 teams emerged who really improved in the organizational sense, especially Germany and Romania. Romania was third in the European Championship in Belgrade, after which they disappeared, and now they’re coming back in style.

These results and surprises in Rome are nor accidental, because everybody is improving. Because of this fact, we have to work even stronger and to change some thing in the approach to our obligations. All other countries changed something in their organization, in their coaching staff; a lot more people is participating in the process. Therefore, we can’t close our eyes in front of these facts.

If there are critics, I am the first one who will stand in line. But we are a team who won two gold medals in the last year and a half, and that’s not a small thing. Everybody should be aware what we did so far.

You can pose a question my will to work, but I will never resign on my own.

Rafael AGUILLAR – Spain
Coach Aguillar - Spain

 I can only congratulate my players as well as the Serbian team for a great tournament they’ve had. I believe that my team has significantly advanced since the World Championships in Melbourne 2007. In that tournament we took the bronze, in Rome we managed to get the silver, now what we need to achieve is the gold! This team is on a very good trajectory of work and improvement, and I’m convinced that we will be on a very good level for the 2012 Olympic Games.

For the Spanish coach, the most important thing in this World Championship is that his team got the capacity to react, in good moments as well as in the bad ones, and that they managed to solve the problems in a magnificent way, especially in the crucial moments of the games.

Rafa AGUILLAR was also surprised with the development of the results in the tournament. When we analyze the results we can see disappointing surprises such as Montenegro and Italy, but also some new fresh teams like Germany, Canada and Romania. It seems that the group of 8 competitive teams has grown to 12.

For conclusion, AGUILLAR pointed out that this selection is the same as one in Beijing, and that he believes that in the future there won’t be any big changes. Maybe some small ones, but the nucleus of the team should be conserved, and that they will have more time to spend together than any other national team. 

Zoltan KASAS – Hungary
Coach Kasas - Hungary

 Zoltán KASAS was in Rome during the second part of the world championship.

As it is known he worked with the national team for 12 years as secondary coach, so it is particularly interesting to hear what he has to say about the games.

I can only say what I have already said in January when the new team started working, when this new era started. My opinion is that we shouldn't hurt the national team for two and a half years, since it's not possible to build a new team and win all the time as well. The fans got a bit too pampered, but I have to add quickly: the Hungarians showed a lot of sportsmanship and cheered for the team in a fantastic way again now in Rome, at the world championship.

We mustn't forget that world class players who were the backbone of the team in Beijing are now missing. Now the young players who have played with them have to take over their role, which is not easy. A Tibor Benedek, a Tamás Molnár, a Tamás Kásás is not easily replaced. And of course if the „crop rotation” comes to be and Peti Biros and Gergő won't play next year - Tamás may play, I don't know, he and Dénes will have to decide on that –, we'd really need to be patient. I think that the team should be built about a year and  a half before the Olympics. They need time, they need to travel down a road, suffer a bit and lose some.

We could also see on this world championship that the difference between the stronger teams isn't so big. To mention only one, here's the disappointing failure of the Montenegrin team, even though they are very good. The Serbians really…, their young players have more routine and play together almost all the time in Partizan. But we were equally matched with the Serbians as well. The routine! I think that we'll need two and a half years and a lot of matches to have the younger players acquire the necessary routine and confidence, so the team's poise can be as stable as it used to be.

[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]