The Serbian expert Slobodan Kovač led Belogorie Belgorod to win the only European title in their club history which they failed to claim earlier – the CEV Challenge Cup. And he did it in his first season at the helm of the Russian powerhouse. However, as he revealed in an interview for our website, it might also be his last season there…
Let’s get back to winning the 2019 CEV Challenge Cup. How did this road look like from your point of view?
“Up to the semifinals, I played with the combined squad, young players, because the quality of the opponents was such that I could afford it. Then came the tough match against Benfica Lisbon, a team that is full of Portuguese national team players and experienced Brazilians. It was a serious game. We played poorly on the road, but we were excellent in the golden set. I was a bit afraid of the matches against Monza because they play well on the road. They were able to beat some of the favorites in Italy in away games. They have young, aggressive, good players. Some of them are highly wanted in the volleyball market. They have two opposite hitters of equal quality and they also have Orduna who is one of the best setters in the world. We were mentally strong. This was a great success, and the fact that five of my players were summoned to the preliminary list of Russia national team shows how good we played.“
This is your first season as a head coach in the Russian Championship. It is no secret that it is a very strong competition…
„The quality of the league is high. It’s extremely hard to play. Trips are exhausting. First, the distance between the cities is big, and there’s also a different time zone. You arrive today, you play already tomorrow. It even happened that you arrive at 5 AM, sleep the night, and play tomorrow. For those who play in Russia for the first time, it’s hard. Zenit Kazan are chipped as Fakel beat them in the Club World Championship but also in the league. Zenit Saint Petersburg is a team against whom is highly difficult to play. Kuzbass is a team that has been built for a few years continuously. Dinamo Moscow also have good players. We are among the favorites for the title, too. We can play on an equal footing with everyone including Fakel in the upcoming playoff games. It’s noticeable that our fans have a volleyball tradition, they understand the game well. It’s interesting that you can see elders in the stands when we play at home. We never had less than 2,000 or 3,000 fans in the stands. There were packed stands in the rematch against Monza.“
What about next season? Do you plan to stay in Belogorie or not?
„I have a clause in my contract saying that I am not allowed to negotiate with other clubs before the season ends, but I highly doubt that I will stay in Belogorie for the next season. I was offered to take over Russia national team but it didn’t happen. I was shortlisted with three more candidates. I was even called by the General Secretary of the Russian Federation, Aleksandr Yaremenko. Knowing that he gave me only three days to compose my plan and send résumé since that is how much time was left before they choose the new head coach, I said it was too little time for something like that. Then, they have chosen Sammelvuo. I know him for a long time, he is a great person and a coach. I immediately congratulate him for being elected Russia national team head coach.“
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