The Man Inside
Srdjan Miljanic, BA, MS


European season 2009/10: The Final Curtain

01As announced before, the European water polo May madness, proved its name. We witnessed a high class final Euroleague tournament, and we can say: “The king is dead, long live the king!” We have a new European champion – everyone’s favorite, the European “dream team” – Pro Recco.  The most expensive team in the world, a group of excellent internationals, won the 6th European title for this Italian water polo giant. The Recco’s domination, which has been surprisingly interrupted by Primorac last year, is continued, and if the thing continue this way, it is really hard to imagine, who could match up with the organizational and financial strength of the team from the Genoa outskirts. As I already said, this is their 6th title in history, and now they are equal with Partizan, who also has 6 titles, and the only team with a better historic record is Mladost from Croatia, who has won 7 Euroleague titles in this competition’s history. A very interesting curiosity is, that Pro Recco, which was founded in 1913, is planning to become the most successful team in European water polo history by winning 8 titles by 2013, when they will celebrate their 100th birthday. A very inspiring but also demanding task, but regarding the fact how Recco functions nowadays, a realistic one too. What could spoil their plans? Certainly if some of their closest title holding counterparts like Partizan or Mladost, manage to get the title in the future seasons, but that it a story for the next year, and we’ll just leave it open this time…

But now let’s take a look what has been going on in Naples in mid May. There was really a lot of thing going on during the tournament, both positive and negative ones. There is a general feeling among the participants and the spectators of this event, that everybody was prepared and ready for the tournament, except the Naples and the organizers themselves. Although the city of Naples was the host of this type of tournament for the 4th time (’97, ’99 & ’05), it wasn’t ready for the Final 4. There was no atmosphere in the city about hosting the tournament which will decide about the European champion. No announcements, promotions, or even fliers or posters which invite spectators could be seen around the city. 02Not even around the swimming center Scandona, the venue for the games, were you able to find out that the final tournament of the European most important club competition in on for the week end. On the press conference, held in the Naples city hall just before the tournament, the LEN officials judged who would make the better host, but once more, just like in 2005, the Italians didn’t give too much attention to the clash of 4 best European teams, although back in 2005 one of the participants was the home team of Posilipo. Why am I saying this? Well the lack of preparation was present everywhere. Nobody from the host city picked up the teams who participated from the airport. Jug players had to take taxis to the hotel, because there were no official shuttle busses from the airport. More accurately the bus which was supposed to pick them up, never showed. The same thing happened to Primorac. Moreover, the hotel organized for the teams was not ready when the teams arrived, so the teams had to wait a few hours in the lobby before entering and settling down. Another thing was, that everything revolved around Pro Recco, like Primorac, Partizan and Jug weren’t even there. The hosts didn’t even try to hide that.

Due to the the lousy organization in general, the team from Dubrovnik threatened to quit the competition and not play the game for the third place. Jug Dubrovnik was furious about the fact that their opponent’s fans were just one meter behind their bench in the first two quarters, how their lockers was broken into, and some of their equipment was missing, lack of official transportation and a need to walk to the game, and some other things which gave a bad image to the organization of the premier water polo event of the year.

But those are the bad sides of this tournament. We shouldn’t really focus on them too much, because, besides all the bad things, we were able to watch some really impressive water polo and fantastic games. Generally, the critics should be used to improve the whole concept in the future. But if there is a will to raise the level of the game and interest for it in the future, these type of mistakes shouldn’t be repeated, but unfortunately they do. Maybe one of the ways of resolvie these problems is for representatives of the major clubs to organize, step forward and personally state what they think about LEN and their way of doing business. Water polo Final 4 should be the festival of water polo, and not the place for improvisation, dealing with things when they occur and for trying out some new rules. This is why the Naples Final Four was the way it was. Lousy. LEN experimented with inexperienced referees to whom they gave some new instructions on how to whistle just before the games started!! They tried to introduce a set of new rules, which have never been implemented before, on the Final Four, isn’t that bizarre??! Why didn’t do that on the beginning of the season? Water polo as a sport will hardly ever be popular as some other ball sports, but it doesn’t have to be the last, which he is likely to become with this type of leadership.

Let’s turn to the sport side of the game…What we expected to see-we definitively saw. Tied, tensed games, overtimes, penalty shootouts, goals, blocks…pretty much everything what a high class water polo could and should offer.

Pro Recco won its 6th European Champion title after beating the reining champions Primorac in the final 9-3. In the decisive match, played on the Felice Scandone swimming pool, the legion of foreigners from Recco completely overwhelmed the best Montenegrin club. In the foreplay of the final, Partizan won the third place against Jug 16-15 after a penalty shootout. We can easily say that the Serbs won the title for Recco this time. Most important players of this year’s final were Filip Filipovic (2 goals) and Vanja Udovicic (4 goals), along with the fantastic goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti who had 14 stops. In front of almost 5000 spectators, Primorac opened the game very good. Soon they were leading by 2-0, but then the worlds most expensive team woke up and completely took control in the pool. Calcatera and Filipovic brought the equalization, and the last Primorac’s lead came when Kisz beat Tempesti. In the second half, the Italian team started to play extremely well, with a powerful defense, and the major quality in the offense came from Udovicic and Filipovic. Primorac didn’t have the strength and the capability to try to rebound. All the games were streamed by video on:

Throughout the bronze medal match Partizan had the advantage over Jug. In the third quarter Milanovic’s boys had numerous opportunities to raise the goal difference but just didn’t manage to do it, and by their own mistakes, they kept bringing Jug back to life. Jug won the last period by 3-1 and the game went to the overtime. Partizan scored one goal in the first overtime through Korolija, while the Croats scored in the second one via Obradovic. The game was decided by penalties, when Partizan goalkeeper Soro stopped Maro Jokovic’s shot in the second round.

With a satisfaction of winning the bronze medal, Partizan players feel also a regret because they didn’t make it to the final, which was extremely close. As Marko Avramovic, one of the younger players from Partizan says “This Final Four will stay in a good memory for me. The games were a genuine spectacle, stands full of fans and it was nice to play there. We areboth satisfied and not with the bronze medal. At the end we can’t be unsatisfied because we lost to Pro Recco after overtime, and we all saw how dominant they played in the final. But, looking back at a huge chance we had and missed, we can deeply regret we didn’t make it to the final game because we really played some good and pretty water polo. I am sorry we back out of our system of play in the last quarter and allowed the Italians to come back to life and beat us in the end.”

Partizan players blame only themselves for the lost, because they managed to gamble away the 4-0 lead which they had in the middle of the second quarter. The scorer of 3 goals in that mach and the captain of the Serbian team Vladimir Vujasinovic consider that the main reason for defeat is that nobody of the players expected to gain such an advantage right at the beginning of the game: “ That kind of a start we didn’t expect at all, and I think that’s the reason we lost. It’s like we started keeping the result, instead of continuing more powerful ending the match to our benefit. When they slowly started coming back to the match, we started to loose our game. Some of the ref decisions were odd, like my goal at the end of the 1st half which was annulled for the reason that nobody knows, but they are not to blame for our lost. I can only congratulate the Italians; they showed what a big team they are.”  The coach Igor Milanovic said to the press few days after the tournament that he still can’t stop thinking about the defeat against Recco, but he considers the Italian experience to be extremely valuable: “The feeling is still sour. The way we lost the semifinal affected us deeply. Through detailed analysis we’ll try to find out where did I and my players make mistakes, hoping that that will help us in the future. I don’t think it’s unreal to keep this team together. All the players have contracts except Soro, Gocic and Vujasinovic. It is obvious how much those players mean to our team and I would really like to work them in the future. Who can say that he doesn’t need those players. We basically need 300,000 to 400,000 euro to keep this team together for the next season and to close the financial construction. Partizan showed that he represents the city and the state in an adequate manner and that he deserves any kind of help, which I believe we will receive.”

When Primorac returned to Kotor the day after the final, they were greeted with applause, kisses and congratulations… They remained in the very top of the European water polo, played in a second final in a row. “We are aware if that we have done everything that is in our power. More than that we couldn’t. To be second, right after Recco is a great success for Primorac and an acknowledgement for the continuous good results. And the competition was really tough, by many stronger than ever.” – said Primorac director Dragan Samardzic. “We have strength for all, for the Euroleague and the play offs in the domestic competition which is starting. When you see the support that we have from our fans, and a spontaneous welcome which we received upon our return home, that only gives us motivation to continue the winning style. Our fans are a special story – the Italians couldn’t believe that even half an hour after the final match is over, our supporters continue to chear Primorac, Primorac! With that kidn of support I strongly believe in the shiny future of this team.” – said the young star player Dragan Brguljan. .

Recco’s Vanja Udovicic is filled with happiness because his team won the title, but he says that there is no great euphoria I Genoa about that because in Italy what counts the most is the national title. He adds that he’s glad that his former club Partizan, played in the Final Four and he wishes that he’s national team mates become also European champions, even if that meant that they would need to defeat his Pro Recco in the final. “Playing for Pro Recco means to go for the title in every moment. It’s a big pressure for the players, and we had an even greater one after the lost in the 2009 Euroleague final. But we did an excellent job, showed that we are the best team in Europe and brought back the title. Now we have to play the Italian national playoffs, which are more appreciated in Italy than the Euroleague. It’s not very nice to point out who played how on which match, because this is a team sport, and everybody is equally important for the goals and for the results. All the goals we scored are a product of a quality team play. We had a huge pressure in the semifinal, and that was our biggest problem. From the moment we scored the first goal, everything changed. There are few teams in the world who can come back after such an opponents start, but we did it and we proved to be the best. I must admit that this tournament in Naples was much stronger than the 5 o6 previous ones. Every team was eager to become the champion, while before it was usual that there is a team which was realistically and outsider.

03Concerning the other side I will graduate this summer on the Faculty of Organizational Sciences at the Belgrade University. When asked about that side of my life, I always insist that the personal organization is the key for everything. This is how I manage to organize my professional obligations and the studies. I’m now preparing my graduate paper and I hope to finish that before the summer’s national team preparation period. I still have the motive to play no regardless of the fact that I have won almost everything there is to win. If I didn’t have the motive I would have stop playing and search something else to do. I also have a private company by the name “Art Communication”, and it’s working very well, but I don’t have enough time to really get into the work there. I have more of a consultant’s role. It is basically the company which deals with vending of the internet space. When I finish my career I intend to get more seriously in the business.”

There were two more important events that took place during May concerning water polo. Firstly there was the Final tournament of the Europe most quality league, the Adriatic League. The Croatian champion Jug didn’t succeed in keeping the title which they won last year. In the final game of the Final 4 held in Dubrovnik they have been defeated by Jadran from Herceg Novi 8-11 after overtime. The host held the lead during the whole game, but their level of game plunged in the last minutes of the final quarter what Jadran used and took the game into the overtime, in which they dominated, and so yet another trophy goes to Montenegro. “There are few clubs in Europe who can go out victorious from the Gruz swimming pool.” – said Jadran captain Vladimir Gojkovic. Jadran coach Ivica Tucak explained:”What decided the game was our bigger wish and hunger for success. Although we were trailing almost the entire game, we demonstrated that we can bounce back, which this team certainly can do. We had a dose of sport’s luck, but you need to provoke luck to have it. The boys played a fantastic game and I congratulate them on their performance. This is my first club trophy but I believe not the last one.”

Another major event that took place last month was the draw for the European Championship in Zagreb in September. The bad news is that unfortunately despite the great wish of the people from the Croatian water polo federation, the Championship won’t be organizes in the Zagreb Arena, like it was planned, due to huge bond (25 Million euros) needed. The organizers were just not able to raise that kind of money, so the new venue will be the open swimming center Mladost. The draw, which was held on the central square in Croatian capital decided that the home team of Croatia will participate at the start of the tournament in group A along side with Montenegro, Italy, Spain, Romania and Turkey. The first game, right after the game opening ceremony, Croatia will play against the reining European Champions – Montenegro. Group B will consist of Serbia, Hungary, Russia, Greece, Germany and Macedonia. In the female competition the group draw looks like this: Group A – Croatia, Russia, Italy and Greece, group B – Spain, Hungary, Holland and Germany.

I am very pleased that the Euro Championship organization has been given to such a powerful water polo country. The only thing we can regret is that our dream of organizing this event in the big Arena didn’t come to life.” Said Nory Kruchten, president of LEN. Interesting fact is that the Croatian water polo federation engaged in UNICEF’s campaign called “Stop the violence on children”, whose purpose is the prevention of adolescent violence and a creation of safe surroundings in the schools.

The men´s and women´s National Leagues in the UK have now officially merged to form a new organisation – the British Water Polo League. It will mean that more than 60 teams from across England, Scotland and Wales compete during the coming season in eight divisions spread over almost 40 weekend tournaments.

After months of planning and discussion, the British Water Polo League was officially launched when club delegates attended the inaugural annual meeting at Hockley Heath, near Solihull, on 16 May.

The new organisation is the result of a merger of the men’s National Water Polo League and the National Women’s Water Polo League and will mean that more than 60 teams from across England, Scotland and Wales will be competing during the coming season in eight divisions spread over almost 40 weekend tournaments.

The first annual meeting appointed a President, Gordon Dacre. As a former NWPL match secretary and, over many years, an influential figure in the expansion of the UK women’s game through his club, City of Liverpool, Gordon was the perfect choice.

He said merger should be viewed as “a springboard for the future of water polo.

“I believe that, rather than just criticising from the sidelines, we should take far more of a lead in helping to influence the successful development of the sport in this country at all levels.”

The new chairman is former NWPL chairman and competition co-ordinator David Andrews, of Sutton and Cheam Swimming Club. He said that merger had been a huge undertaking and its full benefits might not be fully apparent for another two or three years. “However, we are confident that the bringing together of UK men’s and women’s elite national competitions – effectively for the first time – into one strong and efficient organisation will prove to be a tremendous boost for the sport.”

British Water Polo League clubs will be playing under a new divisional structure from 2011, which it is argued will add an extra competitive edge to many more matches.

The annual meeting voted in favour of a system that will involve:

Men’s National League clubs have already agreed to reduce the number of teams in Division One from ten to eight at the end of the 2010 campaign. For one season only, this will lead to potential play-offs next December involving:

With the men’s competition cut to four eight-team divisions, it will mean that at the end of 2010 the bottom three clubs in Division Four drop to a newly-created feeder division. It is hoped the feeder system will prove attractive to some of the numerous clubs that have inquired about potential playing membership. (taken from )

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