Water Polo in Montenegro

Uros Popovic
Vaterpolo Magazin
09/01/10

Uros PopovicHi to all water polo fans in USA. I am Uros Popovic from Vaterpolo Magazin in Montenegro (http://www.vaterpolo-magazin.com/index.php) , and I will bring you some news about what’s happening in the water polo world here in Montenegro.

For those who don’t know, and I assume that a lot of you don’t, Montenegro is a very small country, with population of only around 600,000 people. That makes it one of the smallest countries to ever win a gold medal on continental or world championship in team sports.

However, Montenegro is even a lot smaller than that, in terms of water polo, which is played only on the south. To be more precise, it is played only on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, in the beautiful Bay of Kotor - practically only in 2 cities that are 30 minutes car ride from each other – Herceg Novi and Kotor. There is also some tradition of water polo in Budva, town that is another 30 minutes away, as Budva used to be champion of Yugoslavia in mid ‘90s, but usually, most of the players in Budva’s senior team are either from Herceg Novi and Kotor, or are foreign players. Vast majority of notable Montenegrin players throughout the history are from Herceg Novi and Kotor, and only few from Budva. In the current Montenegrin national team, only one player is from Budva – Milan Ticic. There are players who are not from Kotor and Herceg Novi, but from some of the small towns in Bay of Kotor, but as those towns don’t have professional water polo clubs, talented players play for either Jadran (Herceg Novi) or Primorac (Kotor) from very early on.

Herceg Novi and Kotor, and the whole Bay of Kotor, have the population of around 60.000 people, and Budva is the town of around 10.000, which makes all of the successes of Montenegrin water polo even more impressive.

jadran-primorac.jpgPrimorac Kotor, European champion from 2009. and Euroleague Final 4 runner-up this season, was founded in 1922, while their neighbors, Jadran Herceg Novi was founded 4 years later. Rivalry between these two teams is very big, and sometimes results with incidents between supporters, which can usually be seen only on the football (soccer) matches. These two teams gave water polo some of the legendary players throughout the history. We will mention only few of them – Boris Cukvas, Djuro Radan, Bozidar Stanisic, Slobodan Vicevic, Zoran Mustur, Zoran Gopcevic, Petar Porobic, Mirko Vicevic (by a lot of people considered as one of the best players of all times), Veljko Uskokovic, Vaso Subotic etc; to the stars of today’s water  polo – Aleksandar Ivovic, Boris Zlokovic, Nikola and Mladjan Janovic, Vladimir Gojkovic, Vjekoslav Paskovic, Andrija Prlainovic (who plays for Serbian national team, but is from Herceg Novi, where his family still lives); and in the end, some of the future stars of this sport, like Drasko and Darko Brguljan, Uros Cuckovic, Dusan Mandic, Gavril Subotic and lots of others, of whom you will be certainly hearing about in the years to come.

All that said doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, far from it. Big problem is that there simpy aren’t enough swimming pools. Even in cities like Herceg Novi, Kotor and Budva, with big water polo tradition, there is only one indoors pool, and one outdoors in each city. But even those are not always working as they should. For example, Budva didn’t have the pool until 3 years ago, so their senior team was playing in Kotor. In 2002, first year of Jadran’s dominance, they were forced to hold some of their trainings in Kotor, because water in Herceg Novi pool couldn’t be heated, due to some technical problems. There is a brand new swimming pool in Montenegro capitol, Podgorica, that was built in 2009 and where World League final tournament was held last year, but there is still no water polo club in Podgorica. In order for Montenegro to keep the place among the best water polo nations, there will have to be more pools, more water polo clubs, more cities to attract more kids to beautiful game of water polo.

kiss-ivovic.jpgJadran is champion of Montenegro, after defeating Primorac in playoff final series 3:0. First two matches of the series were real spectacle, but the third one was something that everyone who has anything to do with water polo in Montenegro should be ashamed of. The tension between two teams in the pool was so high, that it was on the edge of physical confrontation on few occasions. Referees, with their controversial decisions, usually against Primorac, didn’t help either. So, instead of talking about two great teams and their great duel, everything everyone was talking about after the match was referees, and how they influenced the match.

Primorac won national cup, defeating Budva in the final, in another controversial game, similar to that in the playoff finals. Primorac also played in Euroleague Final 4, and reached the final, second year in the row. But after surprising Pro Recco in 2009, they weren’t able to repeat the same result, and were defeated by the same Pro Recco in the final 9:3.

Budva didn’t have successful season, at least in domestic competitions. They didn’t manage to win any trophies, and didn’t qualify to Adriatic League

Final 4, but they were in Euroleague quarter finals, so it was successful Euroleague campaign.

jadran-titula.jpgYoungest Montenegrin team, Cattaro, lead by legends of water polo, and Montenegrin sport in general, Vicevic family, won second European competition, LEN Trophy – 2 years after the club was formed they managed to win international trophy.

Besides these 4 clubs, there are few more semi-professional teams, some of them are actually something like B teams of Jadran, Primorac and Budva – Bijela is the team from Herceg Novi, where some young players of Jadran, who are still not ready for first team, can play. Same goes for Val Prcanj, which offers an opportunity for young players from Primorac’s youth academy to play before they are ready for senior team; in the end, for Budva, there is Petrovac.

On 21st of July, 2nd Montengrin league has started. It is the competition for amateur teams from Bay of Kotor, to decide the champion of 2nd league. Some of professional players that play for Jadran, Primorac or Budva, or who play abroad, play for teams in this competition, usually for those in which they started their careers as kids. For example, Blagoje Ivovic, who plays for Spanish champions Barceloneta, and is brother of more famous Aleksandar Ivovic, will play for Bokelj, as well as Sergej Lobov, Novak Jelic and Sasa Misic – all of them played for Cattaro last season; Milo Zmukic, who plays for Martianez in Spain, plays for Rivijera Djenovici in this competition. They are not the only ones, but most of the players in 5 teams (Bokelj,  Rivijera, Galeb, Risan and Kumbor) that will compete for 2nd league title are young players that are yet to find their place in some of the professional teams.

cattaro.jpgThat is it for now, in my next article, I will tell you about national team preparations for European championship in Zagreb,Croatia, where Montenegro will defend the title won in Malaga, Spain in 2008. Also, I will tell about how Montenegrin clubs will look in next season, which players left, what are the new signings, and expectations of each team in the coming season.

Uros can be reached by email at uros.popovic@vaterpolo-magazin.com