03. 10. 2019

INTERVIEW: Matijašević for WoV – “Thanks to 24-team format, volleyball will be more popular in many countries“

Source: Photo: cev.eu; Rennes Volley 35/Facebook

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Nikola Matijašević had the honor to lead the Men’s National team of North Macedonia in their first-ever participation at the European Championship. And, he was close to qualify them for the eighth-finals, recording two wins and three defeats in the Preliminary Round. Still, the victory over the finalists-to-be Slovenia will be remembered by the fans in the country for a long time. It might be a decisive moment for Matijašević to stay at the helm of North Macedonia.

 

The 66-year-old Bosnian-born Nikola Matijašević, the father of a famous volleyball manager Georges Matijašević who owns the LZSport Pro agency and has many world stars of this sport as his clients, established himself as a respectable coaching name in France. He has been working in this country for 15 years, paving the way of Chaumont, for example, to the top of volleyball in France. North Macedonia, whom he had the honor to lead to their first-ever participation at EuroVolley, was one of the three national teams which he coached, so far. The impressions from this event, that has just been over, are still fresh, especially when it comes to a win against co-hosts and finalists-to-be Slovenia...

Are are you satisfied with the performance of North Macedonia at the 2019 EuroVolley in general?

“My impressions are a bit mixed. We were bad in the first part of the group phase. We lost the first two games. First from Finland and then from Turkey. These two games turned to be decisive, but we knew that even before the start of the championship. From the third set against Russia, when we missed a couple of set balls, we continued to play much better and concluded with the game against Slovenia in which we showed that we weren’t inferior as it was thought at the beginning of the tournament. To beat Slovenia in front of 12,000 fans in Ljubljana is a great success. I’m not completely satisfied, there’s a bone stuck in my throat because I got the impression that, if Turkey played with full force against Finland in the last round, we would go to the eighth-finals. Nevertheless, who knows why it’s good that it turned out this way because if we had made it to the eighth-finals in our first participation, the challenge and pressure would have been huge. If North Macedonia again qualify for the European Championship, it will be a success. Then let’s take a step further - advance from the group stage to the knockout stage.“

Does this mean that you will continue the cooperation with North Macedonia national team?

“No, not necessarily. Look, players matter the most. We, head coaches, are a passing thing, to put it bluntly - we are a necessary evil. The important thing is the players, the important thing is that the team is improving, that’s why I spoke in the direction I was speaking, a little while ago. Several ideas were presented, I spoke with the President of the federation, Petar Jovanovski, who did a great job and gave the staff and the team perfect conditions to prepare for the European Championship. Still, it was a short conversation because the matches were over late and I had to go back to the club. He expressed his desire to continue cooperation. Me, too. We’ll continue negotiations in a more normal situation. I’m not bound by a contract because we had a contract prior to the European Championships and for the time being there is only a verbal agreement.“

What is your opinion on the 24-team format that was introduced at the European Championship for the first time ever? There were conflicting opinions from some head coaches...

“I think this is a great decision by the CEV and its President Boričić because it was shown that if North Macedonia are able to beat such a strong team like Slovenia on the road, it’s not a decline in quality as it was said. This is more of a big gain for the countries in which volleyball is not as popular and at a high level as in some other countries. It’s the momentum for this sport to become more popular. If it wasn’t for the 24-team format, we would have hardly qualified to the championship. Secondly, the matches of North Macedonia, and not just North Macedonia, were broadcast on state television. Look at Finland, they were supported by 3,000-4,000 fans in Ljubljana. They have a generation change in the national team, but if they hadn’t gone to the championship, their fans wouldn’t have come, too. The quality hasn’t declined much, and in many countries volleyball will become more popular. Also, many players will be in better shape after the championship.“

You were the head coach of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and now North Macedonia. Obviously you feel comfortable working with national teams from the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The following question is a somewhat serious and somewhat humorous - what is the next national team from this region on your list?

“Look, I was once or twice close to becoming Yugoslavia head coach when Travica left and before Kolaković arrived. I was close to finalizing the deal with the federation. Of course, it was one of my desires. I’ll probably continue with North Macedonia, but every coach has a personal desire to work with strong national teams. In this region, Montenegro and Croatia are maybe a little bit stronger than North Macedonia, while Slovenia and Serbia are stronger than all of them. This desire exists even though I’m at a mature age. It may be a cliché, but the doors aren’t closed for me anywhere (big smile).“


 

At the club level, you have been a coach in France for 15 years. Why do you like working in France so much?

“Some time ago, I was experimenting. I was a coach, for example, in Tunisia where life is beautiful. Systematically, but also for the sake of change, I went to work in Belgium and Germany, I was even in Latvia. However, France suits me because I started there, first as a playing coach and in the following years I won the championship and the French Cup with Asnières. France has exceptionally good working conditions compared to many other countries where I stayed for a very short time, not because of motivation, poor work or results, but because the deals weren’t respected, because there were poor working conditions. This is the biggest reason why I stayed in France. The great advantage of working in France is that the players have good treatment. Although this is improving in some countries where salaries were late, in France there is no such thing. Contracts are rigorously respected and, therefore, it’s easier to work with satisfied players than with players who are in danger of being chased away. The level of volleyball in France is very good, in my opinion, it’s the third or fourth league in Europe in quality. Here, when you are first in the standings and go to play the 13th or 14th team, you can easily lose if you underestimate them. Many young talented players from all over the world play here. It’s a strong league and it serves as a sort of side station for them to go to stronger leagues when they prove themselves. Personally, I have the authority and good results here. I’m wanted here.“

You have become a specialist to take a team from the low rank and bring them to the elite. That was the case with Chaumont, to whom you have paved the way to becoming a powerhouse, and this has been the case with Rennes, whom you have been training for five seasons. Does such a coaching path represent a particular challenge for you?

“There are more clubs on the list. Beauvais were in the third division and I came with them to the play-off in the top division and participation in European cups. Yes, that’s a challenge. I love it, I’ve always loved it because I’m a coach of a challenge. I don’t like everything to be easy right away, and it worked for me so far. I get offers for challenging projects all the time, but of course, if the story with Rennes remains in the way that we continue being at the top and even go for the title, I’ll be here. But I don’t have a problem to accept if a good, interesting project, comes up.“

During the middle of the season you extended the contract with Rennes. Are you satisfied with the results that the club made last season and what are the ambitions for the next season?

“Last year, we achieved a realistic result, it was the greatest success of Rennes in their history. That is, probably, why they extended the contract with me so quickly. I’m pleased, though there’s some regret because we were undefeated in the first eight games, we were in the first place in the standings, but we did not endure because of the small selection of players. Van den Dries got injured and was healing in the second part of the season, playing with 50% -60% of his capabilities. So we lost the Cup semifinals, then we were eliminated from the play-offs. Next season I would be pleased to be in the top four teams.“

Are you satisfied with reinforcements and roster that is at your disposal for the upcoming season?

“The team is changed, I’m happy with the reinforcements. I chose them, I enjoy the full confidence of the club and the President Brice Chambourg, and that’s one of the conditions I have for working at the club. I think the line-up will be stronger than last year, and we will have two better and more experienced players on the bench, which is more than last year, who can change the course of the match. Last season, only young players were on the bench. Now, on paper, this looks homogeneous. Is it going to be confirmed in the matches? We’ll see.“


Check out more interviews.


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