© Henk Swinkels

Vladimir Gojkovic happy with new career

Vladimir Gojkovic has finished his first season as head coach. He led his long time team of Jadran Herceg Novi in Montenegro to a surprising national cup win and started working on the development of a young and inexperienced group of players. The 32-year old World, two-time European champion and 2004 Olympics silver medalist retired as active player after the 2012 Olympic Games and went right on to persue his long time ambition of being a head coach. Vaterpolovesti's Srdjan Tomic sat down with the successful former Montenegro international and talked about his first season leading Jadran, his coaching ambitions, the Final Four tournament in Belgrade, Serbia and the upcoming World Championships in Barcelona, Spain.

Vlado you played many matches for Jadran Herceg Novi, won a lot of trophies. In the first season as coach you managed to take Montenegrin Cup with a rejuvenated team, what are your impressions?

In the beginning of season because of crisis in the economy and sport we had the smallest budget in last 15 years. From the experienced players only goalie Miloš Šćepanović stayed, and we managed to bring Aleksandar Radović who came to club even though we could not pay his true value. Just Radovic made an immeasurable contribution to winning that trophy, even though we had the bad luck when he got injured after the third round of the Adriatic League. However, despite a shoulder injury and great pain with just two training sessions he was a key player in the first leg finals, and in another played a very important role in the crucial moments. Before the start of the season we had no ambition for trophies but still, we managed to continue the trophy winning streak.

You've decided on a coaching job even though you could keep up your playing career, have you had such an ambition for a long time and who are the experts who influenced your devotion to coaching?

I was thinking to become a coach after my playing career as soon as I was 25 years old, and already in 2011 I wanted to quit playing and become a coach, but I stayed in the pool for one more year. I have considered coaching for a long time, and during my playing days I was fortunate to work with experts who influenced me immensely. First of all it is Pera (Petar) Porobić, who came to the club when I was 17 years old, and we worked until I went to Russia, and then in the national team of Montenegro, so I spent 13 years with him. Great seal to my career was given by Nenad Manojlovic, in the youth, and later in the senior national team of Serbia and Montenegro and with him I have come to know the true Yugoslav water polo school with great and hard work, almost to the limit. I want to point out another important thing, I joined the national team when players like Danilo Ikodinović, Dejan Savic, Aleksandar Ciric Vlada Vujasinović and Alexander Šapić played there. From them I learned some things that coaches cannot teach, and it was a great privilege to work and spend time with them.

Photo by Henk Swinkels

Jadran is now in position to rely on younger players whose time is yet to come, is that a long term strategy of the club?

In all sports that is so, you have to build a couple of club players who carry the game and doing an amazing job. We now have 5 or 6 players who could grow to such holders of the team, and I am very pleased with how they progressed during the season, it is satisfying. For that we should work to make players who can produce results. When I made the first team it was a similar situation, many players left, and the we were given a chance. I say this to guys that I coach, to have a great chance, but it takes time. My generation needed a few years to start winning on the side. It's easier at home, but for great results you need to win on both sides, and that requires experience and time. The goal is to create these players, and then if you bring a top player, it is only better since he can influence the younger guys to play 20 to 30% better.

The Champions League Final Four in Belgrade was an opportunity to see how well some players originating from Jadran can be, most of all Andrija Prlainović and Aleksandar Ivović?

Prlainović and Ivović and are certainly among the five best players in the world right now. They were in the Jadran squad when we won that first national title back in 2003 and grew up with us. Prlainović was already one of the greatest talents in the world, Ivović took longer to mature, but has quickly become a player who gives the most to the club. He now plays 10 months of continuous incredibly well on defense and offense. The good work started in 1997, the year the club went out and perhaps a fanciful number of national team players were on. From Predrag Jokic, Boris Zloković, Milos Šćepanović and then a little later Ivovic, Prlainović and Radovic. After these generations we had a period of some lack of performance by the team, cause we do not have those kind of players who could carry things.

Is a pity that the situation did not allow these players to stay together and won the European title for Jadran?

Yes, the players started to leave gradually since 2004, shortly after winning the title. We tried in 2009 to get most of these players back to conquer Europe, but we did not succeeded. It takes time to reach success, as was the case in Bečej who worked for years to become European champions in 2000.

You just started your coaching career, and you're a part of a new generation of coaches in the region. To coach a national team is a big challenge, are thinking about it?

To be head of a national team is a crown of every coach’s career, and of course I am thinking about it. However before that I have to prove myself, to show that I know how to do this work. I am only at the beginning and have plenty of time in front of me. For now, the biggest satisfaction is to create here in Jadran a range of national players and so do a great thing for water polo in Montenegro and of course for our club. In Serbia Savic and Vujasinović came out, and I know them, they are hard workers and the best things that could happen is a Serbian water polo is arrival of those two on the benches of Partizan, Red Star and the national team.

Photo by Radoje Milic

What is the plan of Jadran for the next season?

We rely on our young players, about 5 or 6 will get more room to play. The Adriatic League is a great competition for young players, the opportunity to gain experience and grow, therefore it should be used. Except Jug and Primorje we will play to beat any opponent at our pool be and in the national championship, of course, try to win a trophy. Unfortunately Šćepanović and Radovic will leave because we cannot keep them, but there it is an opportunity for the younger to prove themselves.

Many water polo fans are sorry that Vladimir Gojkovic’ career ended when he was still able to play a few more years. If you were not going to build on a coaching career, what would you do?

Definitely would play four or five years more, because I've always been physically well and ready to play. However, I decided to become a coach and I'm not complaining. This way when the season is off I jump into the pool and work with the guys, show them practical things.

You were at the Final Four in Belgrade. Were you satisfied with the atmosphere, is the size of the audience something that is necessary to raise the water polo?

All competitions organized in Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary are right for water polo, because there is audience who loves and follows water polo, which is the most important. In my opinion the only thing that can save the water polo is the switch from a winter to summer season, running from April through October. I think it would attract audience, led to a greater interest from media, and competition teams could easily fit it into the calendar.

The next major event is FINA World Championships in Barcelona, what do you expect from the Montenegrin national team, and who are the main favorites for a medal?

Montenegro has to go to for medal in every event because there is the quality for it. After the Olympic games a large number of players ended their respective international careers and many teams have been rejuvenated. I think that Serbia is the main favorite, followed by Italy and then a few teams with similar opportunities. First of all, Montenegro, Croatia and Spain.

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