Transfer Season in Europe
After a summer filled with national team competitions, which introduced new World League, University Games and World Champions, now it’s time to go back to national championships and prepare for the domestic and European challenges. This edition of Inside European water polo column will be dedicated to the pre season activities and the most interesting transfers in the top European clubs.
The country which becomes the new hot spot for the players is definitively Montenegro. Not only that their national team keeps good results in international competitions, but the clubs from this small country are getting stronger and stronger and the national championship will be maybe the most competitive one in Europe. First of all, the European champion from the last year’s Euroleague edition, Primorac from Kotor, managed to keep almost all the key players from last year (such as KISS, MILIC, BRGULJAN and PAVLOVIC) and to complete one of the star transfers of this season – signing up the American Tony AZEVEDO from Jug Dubrovnik. Although it was almost certain that AZEVEDO will continue to play for the Croatian champion Jug from Dubrovnik, the turnover came suddenly and the USA national player who led the USA team in this year’s World Championship, became the biggest reinforcement for the Kotor team. Signing such a star player clearly shows what Primorac’s ambitions are for this year in domestic and as well European competitions.
Another Montenegrin club, Jadran from Herceg Novi has made a great effort and maybe managed to create a new water polo dream team. After the transfers of Montenegrin national team players ZLOKOVIC, JOKIC and Nikola JANOVIC, and with the “old” ones like GOJKOVIC, SCEPANOVIC, VUKCEVIC, IVOVIC and RADOVIC, the team composition represents practically ¾ of the national team. Zoran MUSTUR, the head coach of the Jadran team, said that, after the debacle in the World Championship in Rome, the most important thing now for the players is to get a good rest and to renew the energy and the motivation, so that they could manage to improve the results on all 4 competitions they are supposed to play (national championship and cup, Adriatic league and the Euroleague). In the previous season, the club had 6 international players (GRAHAM, ELEZ, JELACA, PREMUS, SMITH and PERCINIC), but this year the club decided to turn towards the domestic strengths. As the head coach MUSTUR says: This is the conception of the club, which I completely support, and I consider it the best way to improve water polo. This way, besides 8 experienced top class players, there is place for younger players too, who, like the case of the officially best European young player Filip KLIKOVAC, showed their potential in junior selections. The only international players in this team besides the goalkeeper PERCINIC, will be another young player – Ivan BEBIC, which is one of the most perspective players from our area and the experienced Croat ELEZ.
The two other quality clubs in Montenegro Budvanska Rivijera and Cattaro also did a good job in the pre season. Budvanska Rivijera, who won the last year’s national cup, with the new coach PETROVIC, continued to engage experienced international players. First of all, they signed the legendary Serbian international Petar TRBOJEVIC from he Spanish champion Barceloneta, who will definitively influence the tem with his experience. The big new names are also the Serbian power center PEKOVIC, arriving from the Russia, and Croatian representative Srdjan ANTONIJEVIC, who played some very good games on the recent World Championship, and the talented Montenegrin PASKOVIC who played for Primorac last season. With the stars from the last season – SEFIK, CIRIC, FRANICEVIC and others, this team has the biggest ambitions in the upcoming season.
On the other hand, the second team from Kotor, newly founded Cattaro continued to form an excellent team this season too. With the experienced coaching and management provided from the well known water polo VICEVIC family, this season’s newcomers are the double Olympic champion with Hungary Tamas VARGA and one of the best world center Mile SMODLAKA from Croatia. Also, one of the players with the biggest collection of medals in water polo history, the famous lefthander Veljko USKOKOVIC agreed with the team management to continue his professional career in Cattaro, but this time as an assistant coach. This team will play in this year’s edition of LEN cup, and will certainly try to get all the way in all competitions they participate.
The top Croatian clubs Mladost Zagreb and Jug from Dubrovnik suffered a lot of changes before the start of new season. Mladost has a new head coach Emil NIKOLIC and a new team with 7 new players and besides the high quality center Igor HINIC, they are all young, talented players. As the coach NIKOLIC says, this team will need time to find its game, but with good conditions, hard work and a positive atmosphere which is present on the practices, he is certain that the team from Zagreb will be playing an important role in all of the competitions they participate in. The reining national champion Jug lost one of the best players from last year AZEVEDO and SMODLAKA, but even with some young new players, they will represent a very strong team and an opponent who everybody would like to avoid in decisive matches.
The Serbian champion Partizan from Belgrade continues to be “small national team” as the most of the Serbian national team players play for this club. The biggest change for this season is the change in the coaching position, as Dejan UDOVICIC resigned and ceded his place to water polo sport legend Igor MILANOVIC, to whom this will represent the first serious coaching experience. Also, Partizan lost another quality player, as this year’s World Championship’s best goal scorer Filip FILIPOVIC moved to Italian champion Pro Recco for a record transfer fee of 100 000 euros. New players in the Serbian team are the returnees GAK and center KOROLIJA as well as young and talented Milos CUK.
Besides the Montenegrin teams, Italian champion Pro Recco made the biggest purchases this summer. Keeping the biggest stars like UDOVICIC, KASAS, MADARAS the European “dream team” continued the practice of engaging top players, as they signed the Serbian representative and WC best scorer Filip FILIPOVIC, and a Croatian center-guard duo PREMUS-BURIC. New player also is the Serbian center NIKIC and the Spanish top scorer Guillermo MOLINA. This means that Pro Recco is determined to return to the top of the European club water polo, and they certainly have the power and the knowledge to do it! The other top Italian clubs, facing the not so bright economic situation, didn’t really invest much as before in their teams but we saw nonetheless some interesting squad changes.
The Brixia Leonessa Nuoto from the city of Brescia, lost two best players, MOLINA and PEREZ, but engaged the young Croatian power center Fran PASKVALIN and goalkeeper VOLAREVIC. The team of Savona made a huge transfer of Montenegrin guard Mladjan JANOVIC and with a talented team, they will try to come back in the top of Italian water polo. Posillipo from the city of Naples, a team with a big tradition in Italian and European water polo, is facing some financial problems, and decided to enter this season with a young team, full of players from the junior squad, but with a help of an experienced German national team player Mark POLITZE.
The Hungarian top teams, haven’t really suffered huge changes in their squads. We will see again a very strong Vasas Plaket from Budapest with the stars like Denes and Daniel VARGA, HOSNYANSZKY, KATONAS but also with the newcomers DECKER and LETAY. Eger also kept the most of the last year’s strong team, adding the Canadian lefthander Kevin GRAHAM, who came from the Montenegrin champion Jadran. As for the last year’s LEN Cup winner, Szeged, the name entries are not final, but the number of Olympic champions in the team remain in balance, since the place of Tamas VARGA, who is leaving for Cattaro, will be filled by three times Olympic gold medalist, ancient Szeged player Tamas MOLNAR. Among the new recruits are VINDISCH, and Romanian player BUSILA, while negotiations are taking place to sign a young and talented center from New Zealand.
As for the other transfers across Europe, we could point out the transfers of two centers- the legendary Spanish Ivan PEREZ returned from Italy to Spain in Club Natacio Terassa, and 34 year old USA Ryan Bailey signed a contract to play for N.C. Vouliagmeni from Greece. Bailey spent the past two seasons playing for Partizan in Serbia. This is his second time in Greece, and the second time he will play with the coach Yiannis Yiannouris.
The transfers show that the old power houses will be strong as always, but the qualities of those teams prove that this could be a very interesting season in European club competition.
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]