Uniting the National Leagues, Promoting the Game
In the past decade or so, we are witnessing a great deal of concentration of best players, teams and clubs in the area of the South-East Europe. Besides Spain and USA, all the medals and top places in the competitions worldwide are being taken by Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Montenegro. These trends definitively show that this is the place where players do the most quality work, especially in the junior categories, where they face the training drill to become top water polo stars. But if we take a little closer look into the geographical and political situation, we can see that these four relatively small countries, which represent the cream of world water polo, have a relatively small base for producing new talents. Serbia and Hungary have about 8 million inhabitants each, Croatia 5 and Montenegro only 600.000! The key to their success is quality work and focusing on the important factors for the player formation right from the start, from the very young stages.
Kids in these countries, very early, with 11, 12 years already start with two trainings a day. The basic thing is to implement the general ideas how a game and plays of water polo should look like. When they pass the period of accustoming to the water, contact play and ball handling, there is a need for working on their technical skills and physical abilities. The power of legs, the agility to move with and without the ball in the water, developing of game instinct are of crucial importance to develop in young age, in order to prepare players to play on high level. Today’s water polo is a game of speed, accuracy and quick thinking. The ones who win are the ones who mastered all the technical areas, and transformed them into routines. Then the quality of the individuals can make the real difference. If you wish to create a solid base for the future, to provide a quality framework for continuous results, it’s all about the system. All the kids need to follow similar patterns in trainings, which cover basic movements, technique and plays.
This is the pattern that most of the southeast European countries take, and that is basically what makes the difference. But what the senior teams from these countries face due to the great number of different national championships, is a small number of quality games. This might seem odd, but I’ll try to clarify that. As I explained in my previous column, all countries play their national championships with 6 to 12 clubs. But usually there are 1, 2 or eventually 3 really good, strong teams in each championship, and the rest are the ones which fill in the numbers, serve for pumping the goal difference etc…In this situation, top teams get to play maybe 10 to 15 hard games in the whole season, including the European competitions as well. That is definitively something that doesn’t satisfy anybody. That is why we’ve seen creation of the new international regional leagues in order to improve the quality of water polo.
Firstly, in the 2008/2009 season the Adriatic League was founded. It was founded by the three national water polo federations Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. This represented a creation of a new parallel European league in which the top teams from these three countries will compete. Croatia is represented by 8 teams (VK Jug, HAVK Mladost, Sibenik, Primorje, POSK, Jadran Split, Medvescak, Mornar), Montenegro by 4 (Jadran HN, Primorac, Budva and Cattaro) and Slovenia by 1 (Koper). This league definitively represents the strongest league in the world, because the concentration of the teams and star players in just fantastic. The competition is played on a league basis, which means the home and away games, and a final four of the best ranked teams in the end. But what is important, is that this league, and it’s winner doesn’t have any acknowledgment within the LEN European competitions, therefore, he is not rewarded with a Euroleague berth or something like that. This is just internal league, intended to rise up the quality of the game, the interest of the spectators and to provide young players a chance to play as much as tough games as possible. All the games between teams from the same country are counted for their national championships, and in the end of the Adriatic League, the clubs continue with home competitions as normal.
The first season of the Adriatic League was a great success, giving us the chance to see a lot of great games. The last year’s winner was the team of Jug Dubrovnik who managed to get 19 victories and to finish one point in front of Jadran from Herceg Novi. The new season has already started and after 8 rounds the leading places is held by the teams of Budva and HAVK Mladost with 14 points and 7 victories. For the more detailed results, you can check out the official page of the Adriatic League http://www.jadranska-liga.com/index.php?option=com_joomleague&func=showResultsRank&p=2 .
Here are also some of the links towards some interesting games:
- Jadran – Cattaro 11-8
- Jadran – Jug 10-10
- Budva - Sibenik 18-10
- Primorac - Jadran 10-5
Like Adriatic League, this season we’ve seen a creation of another similar championship – the Regional Interleague. This year, the best clubs from Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, decided to form a internal league. The purpose of this competition is also to give possibility to have more quality matches outside the regular national and European competitions in order to help grow the interest for the water polo sport in the region and in Europe. The main gains and benefits of his competition, according to the chairmen, legendary Serbian goalkeeper Aleksandar SOSTAR, is that the clubs and the players could get the opportunity to develop and improve throughout the hard competition, the sponsor will get more additional promotion, and water polo will get on the popularity. The competing system is similar to one in the Adriatic League and it will consist of 5 Hungarian (Vasas, Eger, Ferencvaros, UTE, and Szeged), 2 Serbian (Partizan and Vojvodina) and 1 Slovakian (Kosice) and 1 Romanian (Oradea) team. The games started in November.
This is the road that most of the clubs decided to take, in order to mount the interest of our sport of the spectators, the sponsors and media. Maybe will be seeing similar fusions in other parts of Europe, and maybe some new clubs will join in these internal leagues, but that is one of the ways of promoting our slowing sport.
Speaking of promotion of water polo, the leading people of national federations are trying to find the ways of popularizing this sport, and one of the ways to do it is the action that Croatian federation undertook regarding the upcoming 2010 European Championship in Zagreb. The Croatian officials decided to organize this event in a beautiful new Arena with the capacity of 13,000 spectators. This multifunctional sport and entertainment centre, which was finished last year, will be uploaded with a mounting swimming pool costing €400,000. Although it is obvious that in the preliminaries we can’t expect the full house, the organizers hope that starting from the quarters the Arena could be packed with the fans.
Speaking of promotion and marketing, I found several interesting commercials containing water polo, which could serve as an idea of maybe somehow the marketing potential could and should be reinforced, in order to upgrade the image of this sport and to position it in the mind of a wider public. The commercials contain clips with famous sportsmen like Tamas Kasas, Ivan Perez, and even soccer star Eric Kantona.
For the end I would like to add that the Euroleague groups as well as the LEN Cup pairs have been drawn, so now he have the idea what the European water polo fans will watch in the most quality competitions, which were never as balanced and strong as now. The Euroleague group stage draw is the following:
Group A: Vojvodina, Jadran, Mladost, Barseloneta
(The favourite of this group is the Montenigran Jadran which has an excuisite team this year, and we can expect that Mladost and Barcelonetta will fight for the second place, but we should definitely not discard the young and willing team of Vojvodina, which will be a though opponent to everybody in their pool)
Group B: Jug, Vasas, Primorac, Panionios
(A very hard group with three excellent teams of Jug, Vasas and reigning European champion Primorac which will fight big battles for the quarterfinal places. Panionios is definitively the underdog here)
Group C: Partizan, Olympiakos, Honved, Budva
(Yet another balanced group, where every team is capable of producing good games. I give the slight advantage to>Partizan from Belgrade to be the slight favourite of the group, but there is a lot to play for until the end.)
Group D: Pro Recco, Sintez, Schturm, Eger
(A very hard group for the Italian dream team which must be considered as favourite, no metter who they play, but considering the two away games in Russia and always unpredictable Hugarians this could prove to be maybe the most interesting group.)
In the eight finals of the LEN cup we will see the following games:
FTC Budapest (HU)- Szeged Beton (HU)
Vouliagmeni (GR) – Spandau 04 (GER)
Orade (ROM) – Possilipo (ITA)
Cattaro (MN) – Patras (GR)
Brescia (ITA) – Mattaro (ESP)
Primorje (CRO)- Jadran Split (CRO)
Savona (ITA) – Sabadell (ESP)
Marseille (FRA) – Spartak (RUS)
By my humble opinion we should expect to see in the quarters the teams of Szeged, Spandau, Possilipo, Cattaro, Brescia, Jadran, Savona and Spartak.
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]