With three conquered trophies and semi-finals placement in the Champions League, VK Jug has had more than a great season. We talked to Tomislav Dumančić, the president of the club, about player transfers, the past, and future of Croatia’s most successful water polo club. Dive into the interview to learn more!
As president, how do you look at the past season?
Last season for VK Jug went more than successfully, we even exceeded the goals we set out. We have won three trophies and placed on the semi-finals of the Champions League in Genova, where we, “unluckily”, not to say it differently, lost to Pro Recco.
How do you see the VK JUG in the future, more specifically for the next year or until the end of your mandate?
VK Jug will continue to grow in the next and all the following years, not only during my mandate. Management does not do anything for short-term but has mid and long-term plans for club development. Our goal is not only winning the trophies but also making and upbringing young players who will be the carriers of our game and national game in the future.
It is well known that VK JUG through its history has been and still is a great producer of top water polo players who in some ways feed the world scene and the Croatian national team. Through history, we can highlight great names such as Goran Sukno, Đuho, Kržić, Smodlaka, Ivaniš, Vićan, Elvis Fatovic, Miho Bošković, but also still active players Joković, Bušlje, Sandro Sukno, Obradović, who became top players in Gruž and then went to seek the fortune in other national and international clubs and then returned home to end their careers.
Having in mind the fact VK JUG is at the very top of the world’s water polo big clubs, and here we’re thinking of Pro Recco and once Primorje, lately have begun to take your players with big contracts that you are not able financially to compete with in order to strengthen their rows and to weaken yours. During that time, the club was forced to outsource lower quality players in order to be able to compete in the contests and you have been most successful in the last few years.
Recently we hear about the departures of Bijač and Renzuto, whose game flourished in VK JUG. How do you look at it and is there a future for VK JUG in which such talents would not leave but stay in Gruž and only the best would come if needed? How to defend ourselves from money coming from Italy, Hungary, Greece?
Above all, JUG has always been a “breeding ground” of players and many who came have grown and developed into the “real” players right here in Dubrovnik. A typical example of such a player is Renzuto. Being a relatively “unknown” player in JUG he became a player sought by numerous clubs and signed for Pro Recco. What makes us happy is that: JUG vs. other clubs offers players a steady growth. As for the financial struggle with Pro Recco and the Hungarians, I would like to point out that we do not enter into financial battles with them because our development policy is different: creating and educating players.
A typical example that this growth is attracting players to VK Jug are two new players: 19-year-old Greek Alexandros Papanastasiou and 21-year-old Russian player Daniil Merkulov who will play in the new season, 24-year-old goalkeeper Toni Popadic “returned” and we signed a five-year annex with our Lolo (Loren Fatovic).
Do the city of Dubrovnik and the Dubrovnik economy have the strength to do so (given that the financing of a top-quality water polo club at the level of European championships winner, with all its needs costs, for example, a little less than an average player in the Croatian football league)?
I would like to point out that the City of Dubrovnik has been actively participating in the development of the club and besides that, the club is being supported by sponsorships of many companies in our county. Also, many Croatian companies, beyond the boundaries of our county, have recognized the quality and tradition of the club through financial support. Our almost one hundred years long “spotless” history certainly helps to enhance their image. An example of this is CROATIA OSIGURANJE that has been with us for 15 years and proudly complements the name of our club. I would also like to emphasize other sponsors like Atlantska plovidba, OTP Bank, Dubrovnik Airport, Gulliver, Valamar as well as many other sponsors who support us.
Sandro Sukno, one of the major pearls that arise from the school of JUG, who is currently without a contract and recovering from heavy surgery, while the entire world of water polo is hoping for his return since he is the virtuoso of this sport and water polo is not the same with and without him has stated that his return to JUG as a player is unrealistic due to much more attractive offers from foreign clubs. Can we expect Sandro in JUG’S rows during your mandate?
First and foremost, personally and on behalf of VK Jug, I would like to wish to Sandro a quick recovery and return to the pool to bring us joy with his game. As for his return to VK Jug when we see that Sandro is ready for the game I would like to have him on our team like every club president would, because Sandro creates higher level we will see if we can reach the agreement, however, firstly I would like him to come back to the pool and we’ll sit and talk when time comes.
Recently we see that the stands are more empty than full, as opposed to Hungarians, Italians, and Germans, who are mostly full. What made Dubrovnik audience not to visit the pool anymore since the result of VK Jug has been better than the past three years and the attendance by the audience lower. How to bring back fans and what are your plans to change in the future?
I would not agree that the stands at other pools are full, the Gruž pool receives far more people than some other European swimming pools and it gives the impression that it is empty, while other pools have the capacity of 500-600 people so they look full. Therefore, I do not agree that the other pools are fuller. Another thing that is important here is, let’s take Budapest population for example, and Dubrovnik population?
Observing from that point of view, the water polo matches in Dubrovnik are attended by a greater number of people. Still, I agree with the fact that we are lacking audience on the stands, but perhaps that is because JUG has won a lot of trophies this year and does not have the right competition in the domestic championships nor in the Regional League. If this competition was stronger there would be more “interesting” matches, perhaps the audience would return. We see that the Split Jadran is preparing a new project in which the club is strengthened; Mladost will be recovered very quickly so that the future championships will certainly be more interesting and will encourage the audience to come to the pool.
Younger categories of the club are the “breeding grounds” of future champions as we noted in the beginning. Are you satisfied with the work of the professionals in this segment and with the results of these categories in their competitions? Children mostly work and educate with former big players of VK JUG, Duho, Bobić, and coordinator is Goran Sukno.
It is correct that coordinator is Goran Sukno, but the head of all coaches is Vjekoslav Kobeščak. Our main trainer, along with the coordinator Sukno and director Kržić, has made a selection program for our younger coaches. We are happy with the work but we are not satisfied that we are “just happy” but we want to continue to make progress and improve this work with our children in order to have even more players in our school in the future.
We are currently developing new projects to improve our water polo and junior category so we will see in the future how it will apply to the results. I would like to point out that this year we have already won many trophies in the younger categories, and the confirmation of good work is winning the Nardelli trophy, which is awarded to the most successful club for the results of younger age categories.
Who are the next young players coming from your water polo school as potential champions?
I would not particularly single out anyone, we see that there are many players that Vjeko is using in the senior category and none of them are still full aged like Kristijan Čulina, Marko Žuvela, Luka Stahor, Filip Kržić, Petar Pejić…
Only this season in Official Games, JUG had 37 players, enough to talk about what player’s potential we have.
Given the announcement that the number of Clubs in the Regional League will increase by the number of the Serbian clubs. What impact may it have in your opinion on the development of Croatian water polo?
I would not say that increasing the number of clubs on the part of Serbia will affect the development of Croatian water polo clubs, in fact, I think it should encourage our environment to get even more involved in water polo so that in the future we have the largest number of clubs in the Regional league, and to make our home championships more competitive. Also, to develop water polo, and even sport in general, it is necessary to have a developed economy that will then be able to support sports clubs.
Also, I would like to point out the Opatija initiative supported by the Government of the Republic of Croatia. Realization of this project will support the development of collective sports, which will make us more competitive at the club and the Representation level.
The water polo public is quite divided about how to popularize water polo. Some believe that rules need to be changed, others claim that larger marketing investments are needed. What is your opinion about that as you look at it from the standpoint of a respectable and successful businessman? (What basically needs to be changed so that water polo becomes more understandable and accessible to wider masses? How to bring the audience to the stands?)
First of all, I think that water polo needs to get closer to masses in order to understand it better, but it is not necessary to change the rules much for what there have been some attempts in the past, because then it does stop being the water polo as we know it. I think that it should be more about marketing and promotion, not only by clubs but by authorized institutions, to make the water polo more accessible to both businesses and viewers. If we compare and retrospect the last 15 years, handball and water polo were at the same level. Handball with additional marketing investments went much further ahead, while water polo remained on some margins on which it was.
Your opinion about the league play in the summer months?
I don’t like games during the summer months because a lot of clubs come from Split, Zadar, Dubrovnik and it is difficult to find accommodation due to high occupancy and high prices during that period would affect budgets of clubs. Maybe we should adjust that part of the season, but not to play in the summer months.
In the end, do you have any message for future investors, sponsors of VK JUG?
The message for future investors and sponsors of VK JUG would be that by actively supporting and investing in most awarded the Croatian sports club, which has made numerous Croatian players, strengthens their own image and help us in promoting sport, active lifestyle and creating new generations of water polo players whose names will be called from water polo stand around the world.
We would like to thank Tomislav Dumančić for this interview. We wish him and Jug all the best in future ventures. To keep up with water polo news from around the globe, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.