11. 06. 2020

By Mark Lebedew: The Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of

Source: marklebedew.com; Photo:CEV

Author: Mark Lebedew

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In 1986 I saw a young Cuban opposite with amazing jumping ability and skills play in his first big event. He was obviously destined to be a star who would lead the Cuban team for years.


Four years later, the Cuban team led by another young player, who was on the bench in that tournament, reached the final of the World Championships and came within a whisker of being crowned World Champions.

The second player was Joel Despaigne. History remembers him as a legend of game. He was nicknamed El Diablo, The Devil.

The first player was Ricardo Goicochea. History doesn’t remember him at all. He was nicknamed El Agua, Water.

El Diablo was aptly named, a tightly packed ball of muscle who crushed every ball, often screaming as he did it.

El Agua, while just as dynamic, with long limbs and languid movements, the physical antithesis of El Diablo. Why El Agua? Because he always had a solution.

I always wondered what happened to Goicochea. At a young age he was better than Despaigne and yet he completely disappeared from international volleyball before he was 23. It seems that he suffered a career ending injury, a badly broken leg, and missed his chance for immortality.

I found some video of him. You can see where the nickname comes from. In the 40 odd actions here you can see a variety of solutions and tempos and heights. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see play more.

He also played defence.

Full(ish) matches from this tournament are here and here.


About Mark Lebedew:

Mark Lebedew authors the At Home on the Court Blog. He coaches professionally in Poland, in season 2019/20 with Aluron Virtu CMC Warta Zawiercie. That follows five seasons Germany where his Berlin Recycling Volleys won three straight league titles and a CEV Champions League bronze medal. He has prior professional experience in Belgium and Italy. Mark was also Head Coach for the Australian Men’s National Team. 

Mark partnered with his brother and father to translate and publish "My Profession: The Game", the last book by legendary Russian coach, Vyacheslav Platonov. 

With John Forman, he is behind the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project (link http://volleyballcoachingwizards.com/) which identifies great coaches from all levels, making their experience, insights, and expertise available to people all over the world. The project has produced multiple books, a in e-book format available here ( link to http://bit.ly/34yakou ) or in print at Amazon here (link https://amzn.to/2JRqTE6)




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