Andrija Prlainović, the Total Player runner up of the last two years, gave an extensive interview for the biggest Croatian news portal. He expressed some interesting views on the current situation in water polo. Here is the translation of the whole interview from index.hr.
Unfortunately for all top water polo fans, in the semifinals, we won’t witness another classic between Croatia and Serbia. After many years the podium will be without Serbia. What’s your take on this?
I think this is only the second time in the last 15 years that Serbia is not among the top four in any big competition. This time we decided to go with a secondary team, and the guys who played at this tournament showed that Serbia still has enormous potential and that it does not have to worry about the future of Serbian water polo. Also, the tournament path made it easy to assume that it would be difficult to continuously play on the same level as well.
In the group, we played great and in the quarterfinals Spain was better and stronger. It is not unusual, this Serbian team had much less time to prepare than the other teams in the tournament. This team was formed practically after the World Cup finishing, less than a month ago. It is paramount to have patience, and I am confident that Serbia will have a powerful national team even beyond Tokyo 2020. This tournament is proof of that.
Many will say that Croatia and Serbia are in a class of their own compared to the rest of the water polo world. That it’s the match up of match ups . How do you look at this rivalry? Do you enjoy playing against Croatia?
Serbia and Croatia have played some really epic games in the last ten years. You mentioned the match in Budapest, but there have been quite a few really wonderful events like the one in Belgrade in the final of the World League. Every match with Croatia is a story for itself, we enjoy them all. We players, the audience, both in Serbia and Croatia, and also fans of water polo around the world do, because these two teams are the best that today’s water polo offers. Our match ups are a story of true sportsmanship, in brilliant relationship with them, the professional staff of both teams is also in friendly relations and I believe that will continue. There is no need to be anything else because we did not allow politics to spoil what we have.
The region is always thrilled when after the match the head coaches Tucak and Savic hug. Is it sad to admire these things that should actually be normal?
Nationalism in Serbia and Croatia only concerns those who are not capable of performing properly what they should be doing, which is why they are elected and placed in some functions, because of the inability of their incapable professions they resort to nationalism and strike at the lowest passions to influence people. Politics in all the countries of former Yugoslavia has nothing to offer to the people, neither a better life, nor a good standard, they only offer nationalism, and that is sad. Our athletes, especially those of us who are among the best in the world, are not interested in this story and these people should not be interested in us. Our only interest is sport, and with Croatia we have a fantastic sports rivalry and I am proud of it.
Savić came to Korea practically with a B roster. The whole first team except Mandic is on vacation. How did that decision come about? From the sports side, is it ok to sacrifice the World Championships?
The decision that a few older players won’t travel to Korea, to rest, was brought by Dejan Savić. A few of us have been in the team for 15 years now. Personally, I have done all the preparations and every tournament since 2005. I have not skipped any summer and I think this is a good decision to take a little break before the most important year with the Olympic Games so that we can go to Tokyo energized and motivated to take the gold. This is the main reason why we have been given a break this summer. Was I wondering whether to sacrifice a world championship or not? There is nothing sacrificed here. We’ve brought a good team, and these guys are the future not only of Serbian but also of the world’s water polo. Players who have received a break already have two world championship titles, one silver and the bronze from Budapest two years ago. Life will not change due to a missed contest, and the guys who have now gotten the chance will be affected by this tournament for the rest of their career.
Handball players claim that they are getting killed by the hyperinflation of the handball competitions. Is it similar in water polo?
One of the reasons for this hesitation is this overbooked calendar. It kills us. The leaders of FINA and LEN obliviously decide, as if we were not people, but machines. There is not an ounce of empathy for the players. Both organizations overlap our players with competitions to contradict and mess with the competition schedule of the other side, without any of them being interested in what we have to say in the pool. Such brutal calendars are done by people who sleep in five-star hotels and receive daily allowances. Not one of them even tried to find out what we have to say, to find the best solution so that all tournament players get the most out of their ability. Every sport makes progress, only water polo has a calendar that is worse than 15 years ago. The worst thing is that I’m not sure anything will change for the better.
Croatia is playing against Spain. How do you see this meeting? Who is your favorite, and for whom will you be cheering now that Serbia is no longer in the tournament?
Croatia is certainly better than Spain. It would be a huge surprise if Croatia does not enter the finals, but sports are always good for surprises. Spain raised the level of the game with respect to their group stage performance, while Croatia after their furious opening of the tournament fought hard against Germany. The Spaniards are a bit unlucky, but I believe Croatia is better and will have the opportunity to defend their gold from Budapest. We will be able to enjoy true water polo in both semi-finals for sure. Italy and Hungary are also top performers and I do not doubt that we will be witnessing a water polo spectacle in both games. I will cheer for the Hungarians. Every time Serbia does not play, I’m rooting for them because no nation in the world enjoys water polo like them.
Igor Milanović once said that water polo must urgently change the rules and become more attractive to viewers, as players and coaches do not understand. What do you say?
The new rules that came into play on this tournament are good, they will further speed up the game. If there is a reward for the move and if every player holding ball-free players is sanctioned, it will save this sport and increase popularity and quality. Situations in which the defensive player holds two hands on the attacker as a form of pressing has been the worst part of water polo and with the introduction of the new rules I am sure it will gain popularity and spark interest.
Water polo is the only sport with football in which big competitions are played in June and July. There is no competition and it would be great if more water polo matches were televised in order to bring this wonderful sport closer to the viewers. I would also like to play more games in outdoor pools than in indoor. You’ve seen the final of the World League between Croatia and Serbia on Tašmajdan. It was a real experience and I think it would be better for the club season to unfold during the summer to get more games out in the open.
Dubrovnik is the city of water polo, and only a few people know that you were also born in Dubrovnik.
It is true that I was born in Dubrovnik, “the most water polo” city in the world. I would like to point out how this stretch from Dubrovnik to Kotor, which is about a hundred kilometers, has been the crib to so many world-class water polo players that it has become a phenomenon that is difficult to explain. I was born in Dubrovnik, but that’s the only thing that links me to the city. Namely, at the end of the eighties in Herceg Novi there were no maternity wards and there were only two possibilities: either to go to Kotor or Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik was closer and we were more gravitating to Dubrovnik than to Kotor, so I was born in a town where water polo was more than just a sport.