A New Beginning for a Legend
He has shown and won a lot as one of the best (some would say even the best ever) water polo players of all times. Now a new challenge arises for Vladimir Vujasinovic – to demonstrate the knowledge and experience gathered as a player, from the bench, as a coach of Serbian champion, Partizan.
Today, Vladimir Vujasinovic writes the first pages of his new life. Two weeks after the end of his 25 year career, the magician in the pool, instead of his swimming trunks, will get dressed into the sweat suit and with a stopwatch and a whistle around his neck will for the first time call out the water polo players of Partizan Reiffeisen. Thanks to this new challenge, one of the best water polo players in the history of the game, managed to somehow get over the fact that he won't wear a polo cap anymore.
|I never believed I would play until the age of 39. But with an incredible ease I managed to train every day and to fulfil the duties of a professional athlete. Luckily, the offer to become a coach helped me to decide, and now I'm entering into something which I relatively know, but not the whole way – says Vujasinovic.|
Have you always imagined you as a coach?
That was always in my mind, yes, but I was never 100% sure. I wanted to stay in water polo in some way, and I used to say that when the time comes, the life will show me the path which I should take, and so it happened.
Now you will depend on others. Are you prepared for that?
This transfer from the players to the coaches’ career will be the toughest thing to overcome. That is something you learn, and I want to cross this gap as soon as possible. I was able to find solutions in the water for many situations, and now I have to train others to do so.
Are you planning to be a national coach one day?
No. At this moment, I am not thinking about it at all. My ambition is to create something valuable, to continue the tradition of the Partizan water polo school. I wish that once again, the kids from the Banjica pool play in the Euroleague Final Four tournament.
Why didn't you want to play a goodbye match?
I don't need one. All I wanted to say in the last 25 years, I said in the pool. I closed one chapter, now I'm opening another one.
Do you remember your first water polo days?
How could I forget! I learned to swim in 1982 in the swimming school „Little fish“in Rijeka, and I still have that diploma. J
The legendary coach Dejan Dabovic is very proud of your generation in Primorje
Nothing in life is a coincidence. In water polo school we learned from Sergio Afric. After from Dabovic, Olympic winner from 1968, and after that we were trained for one year by Zoran Roje, gold medallist from the 1984 LA Games. We were very lucky, I wold like to see that in all of our clubs.
Is this possible?
We need to create a system to keep the top players. They need to be present in the clubs, so that kids could see them on the stands, because they automatically react differently in those cases. I get instantly sad when I meet a former player who tells me that he wasn't at the game for over 6 years. I get very upset, because if we are being abandoned by polo players, then we are soon to be gone
After the Socialistic Yugoslavia broke down, in the spring of 1992, you moved from Rijeka to Belgrade. Why did you choose the team of Red Star?
I went to the preparation of the Croatian national team, and my father went to Serbia to find a way on how we can move. Somehow he reached Red Star and Partizan, and Nikola Stamenic, Vlaho Orlic and Dragan Solomun were faster than Partizan. When I came back, we packed in 5 days – and I joined the red and white team.
Is it true that the Croats offered you big money?
When I announced that I am moving, Mladost from Zagreb wanted to take met, and they offered me the best conditions by far. But it was more than just sport at that time. It was a time of war which brought no good to anyone, so my decision was to move to Serbia. I really had an excellent treatment in Croatia, and I can only thank the people who showed that this sport has normal foundations.
Why did you leave Read Star after only 2,5 years?
It was a time of sanctions, penury and no money... We didn't have any conditions for the trainings, development...
And you chose Barcelona.
It was my luck that I went there. Aleksandar Sostar, who transferred there from Naples, helped me a lot. They took me only based on his recommendation. I found great people, a great coach. Those were three unforgettable years.
You played for Partizan for the first time in 1997. Why did you leave this team after only one year?
That team was formed to oppose the mighty Becej at that time. We didn't take the title but we won the LEN Trophy. The team was great, perspective, but it fell apart after the season. We parted because of the objective reasons: higher tensions in Kosovo, blockades, sanctions, bombardment...
And then started the 10 year long Italian story from Rome to Recco?
I was supposed to return to Barcelona, but Roma insisted, and they took me thanks to the good word by Igor Milanovic. Three years after, I went to Recco, where I stayed for 7 seasons, which besides last 4 in Partizan I consider to be my best. Recco is the peak of my career because of the trophies, friends and the title of the Honorary Mayor of Recco. That might be my biggest accomplishment in life.
Last year you've fulfilled the wish to become the European club champion with a Serbia club.
It was really hard! The first year upon my return, we had a great team, better that Recco and Jug, who eliminated us in the quarterfinal, play off. But in the sport, you rarely win something quickly. In the years that followed we were less powerful, but more successful!
You weren't able to rule the old continent for a long time?
My heart aches that because of no money, we had to let go great players. For years we have been trying to make the foundations of that team. And at the very moment when it all came together, when the team was going only upwards, it was all gone...
With the national team you won everything but the Olympic gold, why?
We always prepared specially for the Olympic Games, but I just think it wasn't meant to be. And I wouldn't talk about only three Olympic Games, but 5. Because, in 1992, I was a part of the team which prepared for Barcelona. 3 months of very hard preparation, and only 5 days before the road, because of the sanctions, they send us home! Disbelief, great disappointment and we're gone for 4 years.
New shock in Atlanta 1996.
We returned to the scene a year earlier by winning the Japan Universiade. But that wasn't the right stuff. 4 years were lost, and regardless of the fact that we have had an excellent team, that left a mark in Atlanta. We were amongst the favourites at the games, but at the end we fought for the 7th place with the USA. That was one of my hardest games in the career, because I had an impression that they run while we were swimming. It was a competition to learn the lesson, a good life school.
What about the rumours that you never became the Olympic champions because of the atmosphere in the team?
We always needed just a little, in Sidney 2000, in Athens 2004 and in Beijing 2008. And constantly we were followed by a bad luck. Let's just remember the Athens: Zlokovic couldn't play because of the injury, Ikodinovic and Savic still recovering from shoulder operations, Sapic was on antibiotics because of the Lyme disease, and I was „ravaged“by the kidney stone. We spent so many years together, won so many trophies, we were constantly on top, so we can really be proud on what we accomplished.
Are you still worried about the future of our water polo?
The story is the same for years. Huge lack of funding, clubs barely survive, the most of them is struggling with the daily terms for trainings in the pools which are way too expensive. Non-stop there is a tough situation, and we are at the same position all the time. I don't know where is the way out...
Do you watch other sports?
I watch games on the TV. I am more interested in the ups and downs of the teams during the games, I listen to what coaches say on the motivational time outs, and I constantly try to follow the things which can affect the team to suffer a sudden fall in the game. My wish is to find out how the coach can stop that from happening.
Your son Vuk is playing water polo, while younger daughter Masa is still too young to train something.
I believe that kids should practice sports because of the psychophysical development. That needs to be team sport, and you shouldn't push them too much. Kids should be left alone, to play, and the coaches need to teach them through playing. Not to force them to work morning to night, to try to make adult of them when they're not. It all goes its natural way, the champion will be a champion he has it inside of him.*
Name: Vladimir Vujasinovic
Date of birth: 14.08.1973. Rijeka
Clubs: Primorje, Red Star, Barselona, Partizan 064, Roma, Pro Recco, Partizan Rajfajzen, Neptun (Malta), Fluminese (Brazil).
National team: 341 games, 391 goals
Trophies: silver and two bronze Olympic medals, silver and 2 bronze World Championship medals, 3 gold and 2 silver European Championship medals, 3 gold and 1 silver medal in World League, 1 bronze on the World Cup. 38 club titles, from which 4 Euroleague titles, 3 Supercup titles and 2 LEN Trophies. European championship 2001 MVP, best water polo player in the world in 2001, Honorary Mayor of the city of Recco.
Education: BA in management and the BK College in Belgrade, currently studying for an MA at the Faculty of Organisational Sciences.
*Source: Vecernje Novosti
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]