The Croatian has returned to the Red-Whites, a place he called home as a player and more recently assistant coach to Theodoros Vlachos, but this time with the highest responsibility. With Igor Milanovic’s inevtable departure touted at the end of last season, the club sought to bring in a familar name with a primary aim to elevate their underwhelming performance on the European stage.
Its a big responsibility, but no less that Koljanin deserves. In an exclusive interview with Total Waterpolo, the new boss of one of Europe’s powerhouses shared his thoughts on his return to Piraeus, his plans for the upcoming season, and his vision for a club that has, and will continue, to shape his career.
Koljanin’s return to Olympiacos has been influenced by a multitude of factors, chief among them the opportunity to lead one of Europe’s top teams. He explains:
“Everything that represents a club like Olympiacos, the desire to win, and of course an opportunity for my progress. There is certainly great excitement. Being chosen as the coach of such a club is a great honour and responsibility. I know the environment, I have already worked with most of the players, so it makes everything easier for me.”
Taking the reigns in this context, however, is not an alien concept to Koljanin, who knows Greek water polo well from his time as Olympiacos assistant coach, and then becoming head coach of the Red-Whites biggest rivals, Vouliagmeni. Talking about his experience in the country, “It was my first job as a first coach and the opportunity to start building a career in a club like Vouliagmeni was perfect. The experience from the four years spent there will be of great help”.
Koljanin’s assessment of the current state of the Olympiacos team is optimistic. He states, “I have a well-balanced team at my disposal.” He elaborates:
“There have been some changes in the roster, but I consider them good and positive; a good balance of young players who want to progress and older ones who will be at their disposal for that. There is quality for good water polo; the backbone of the team is very good.”
Reflecting on the Olympiacos’ performance in the previous season, Koljanin identifies both strengths and areas for improvement. He notes, “They had excellent and quality matches during the season.” However, he acknowledges the disappointment of losing a crucial match in the Final-8 competition, “If they had won, the season would have been successful because the club always has the ambition to be among the four teams in Europe.”
High up Koljanin’s priority list will be to foster unity and reinstall a positive culture. The incoming boss firmly believes that the mix of young and experienced players, coupled with their shared passion, will eliminate any hindrances to unity. He states, “I have faith that there will be no such problems”. Koljanin simple believes building a strong understanding of his players will dictate his approach, “I know the characters of the players well enough to I am sure that they will give everything to return the club to where it belongs.”
Despite the Greek League’s questionable competitiveness, Koljanin emphasizes the need for thorough preparation and a respectful approach to every match. “The preparation is as for every important match, and we approach them very considerately,” he remarks. “The league is getting better every year, the teams are getting stronger and they have enviable results on the European stage as well”, Koljanin says in refernece to Vouliagmeni’s top four finish at the Final-8, and Apollon Smyrnis’ Challenger Cup triumph.
European success is demanded at Olympiacos, and Koljanin will have to immediately negotiate confronting a titan in the Champions League group stage, the seemingly-unfallable reigning champions, Pro Recco. However, Koljanin remains undaunted. He states, “The most important thing is that we progress as a team with every game and training.” Olympiacos showed their quality at times last season, including on the opening night with a victory over Recco in the Champions League, a point acknowledged by Koljanin, “Recco is a challenge in itself, but Olympiacos showed last year that it can play with the strongest teams, such as is Pro Recco”.
B GROUP B: Pro Recco (Italy), Olympiacos (Greece), Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia), the winner of the QF Group D
A Re-Union with Jug, sonner than expected…
Hrvoje spent last season as the assistant coach at Jug Adriatic under the wing of Vjeko Kobescak. He reflects on his time with Jug, and talks about their chances this season with optimism:
“Vjeko is my friend and our relationship is excellent. It was a great pleasure to be with him. I think the results were very good and that if we managed to win the championship, the year would have been perfect. Unfortunately, we lost to a strong opponent in the fifth game of the series. I was well received there and I hope that I contributed at least a small part to a good year.”
Although Jug Adriatic have to qualify to progress to the main round of the Champions League, Koljanin backs them to qualify to set-up an early reunion in the group stages this season:
“I think that Jug will pass the group and make our group even more difficult and more demanding. Despite the fact that the team has changed, I still think that they will be strong and have good results this year.”