Neither hat, nor head. Russian national volleyball team without coach
Who will substitute Shlyapnikov?
Last week brought one of the most unexpected news in Russian volleyball. The Russian Volleyball Federation hosted a panel session at the headquarters where it was made a decision that head coach of the men's national team of Russia Sergey Shlyapnikov would leave the post and focus on supervisory activity. Realnoe Vremya tells how things will be going, who are key candidates to become the head coach of the national team and what the federation's final decision will depend on.
New post made up for Shlyapnikov
The news about the change of the national team's head coach became front-page, but it has been said such a turn would do good for a long time ago. The squad has won two serious titles during two years of Sergey Shlyapnikov's work – the 2017 European Championship and the first Nations League. It might seem only this fact favours the conservation of the coach in his place 1,5 years to the Olympics in Tokyo. But the last world championship in autumn gave to understand that the current players of the national team don't do their best under this coach.
Shlyapnikov's reaction to the failure in Italy also played a role. He managed to secretly accuse even Dmitry Volkov, one of the best volleyball players of the country, whom one won't dare to call young and promising. Volkov is the present of the national team of Russia, and its future, without doubt. Even our conservative federation managed to solve the problem and understand that with this coach it would be possible to achieve preliminary results but unlikely big victories like that of under Alekno. On paper, Shlyapnikov remains in the national team of Russia. His departure doesn't look like dismissal but it's presented like promotion:
''Shlyapnikov will deal with organisational work and create a monumental volleyball development programme, which will include a variety of preparation aspects both at the level of youth teams and adults, professional teams,'' President of the Russian Volleyball Federation Stanislav Shevchenko commented on the hidden dismissal of Mr Shlyapnikov.
It's curious that previously Shlyapnikov has already occupied a similar post and supervised the second volleyball team of Russia. Now his main task will be to supervise the preparation for the world championship at home in 2022. So now it will depend only on Shlyapnikov if he will be a figurehead or do real good. Unlike the job as a coach, if desired he can both drop off the radar and take the lead in many organisational issues.
Bernardi, Kovač and Sammelvuo
In addition, after the unsuccessful Olympics in Rio, the president of the RVF claimed he didn't see a foreigner as a head coach of the Russian national team. But now, according to him, the situation dramatically changed, and he doesn't exclude such an option, as many worthy candidates have appeared. Good Russian language skills are one of the key conditions.
Current head coach of Lokomotiv from Novosibirsk Bolgarian-born Plamen Konstantinov is the first person who comes to my mind. He has played both in Russia and has been coaching here for 8 years already without any language problems. He might seem a good candidacy but only if we were in 2014 or so. Plamen has seriously lost in the last years, Lokomotiv doesn't live up to the expectations under him with any line-up (more often with world-class players). Officials of the Siberian club have a strong belief in him by proving support in any stressful situations and nibbing talks about possible dismissal in the bud.
As it's known, Director General of Lokomotiv Roman Stanislavov is also a manager general of the national team of Russia. This is why his lobby of Konstantinov's candidacy suggests itself. But there is a problem, it seems that Plamen himself doesn't want it and he is rather thinking of how to stay in his place at Lokomotiv. Zenit-Kazan hosted the Novosibirsk team on 17 February and easily won 3-0. And after the game, the Bulgarian coach very nervously reacted to a question about his possible appointment to the national team of Russia and gave to understand nobody would allow him to combine these posts until the job at the club was arranged.
According to Realnoe Vremya's information, the expert council of the federation, who will decide who will chair the national team of Russia, will be presented three foreign candidacies in early March: it's current head coach of Italian Perugia (the club where León is playing) Lorenzo Bernardi, coach of Belogorie Serbian Slobodan Kovač and coach of Kuzbass from Kemerovo Finn Tuomas Sammelvuo.
The candidacy of Fakel's head coach Camillo Placì who already worked in the national team of Russia 10 years ago in Daniele Bagnoli's coaching staff is unlikely to be considered. The Italian coach is quite a good option, but he hasn't learnt the language for the long years of working in Russia. In addition, he has health problems: he underwent surgery at the beginning of the winter, after which he missed two months, while his assistant was heading the Novy Urengoy club.
Few candidacies among Russians
The three foreigners have their pros and cons. Bernardi's key advantage is in his approach to work. He's respected in the volleyball world, he has a great experience, but, however, only at the club level. Among drawbacks, it's unclear what we should wait from the specialist working with the national team when it's necessary to show a result in the short run. And there will be big language problems right with this coach, as he has never worked in the Superleague.
Kovač is an interesting character with rich experience both at the level of national teams and clubs. But he hasn't achieved outstanding results anywhere yet. There is an opinion that working with ambitious national teams of Iran and Slovenia are his thing, while he will be out of his depth to bring the Russian squad who wants to win at both the 2020 Olympics and the World Championship at home in 2022 to success. This season, he's working quite successfully at Belogorie, considering the resources he has at his disposal. But the national team of Russia won't have middling players. There will be real stars there. And it's a big question of how they will receive Kovač.
Finally, Sammelvuo, the most progressive foreign coach in Russia in the last years. He somehow resembles Plamen Konstantinov when he was working at Gubernia in Nizhny Novgorod and was hungry for victories, while his team was performing in line with the clubs with a better selection of players and a bigger budget. In Kemerovo, Tuomas was given as much trust as possible the season before last and signed a contract with him for 5 years at once. He doesn't have any language issues, he perfectly catches tendencies of modern volleyball. But the current contract with the national team of Finland designed until 2020 is the main problem in the option with him. We will have to pay a considerable forfeit for its termination. In addition, Sammelvuo has recently disrupted his reputation in the Russian Superleague when he fielded the second team in a top match against Zenit-Kazan, and his team lost 0-3 without any fight. Nobody has so far understood the Finn's manoeuvre.
As for Russian coaches, here, finally, the list of candidates is even shorter than that among the foreigners. Only candidacies of the coach of Zenit from Saint Petersburg Aleksandr Klimkin and coach of Dynamo-Moscow Konstantin Bryansky will be really considered as key. The first one is a hundred per cent creature of the federation. As early as a player, Klimkin gained great authority among RVF representatives, and now he receives all kind of help as a coach. By the way, he has worked with the national team of Russia – it was he who was entrusted with substituting Andrey Voronkov in 2015. But just two matches, which didn't decide anything from a perspective of competition.
The take-off of Bryansky began immediately after Klimkin went from Nova to Gubernia. Mr Klimkin built his career as a coach on his own, achieved success with the club from Samara Oblast. He worked hard and became the head coach at Dynamo-Moscow now, but at the moment he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer – the team is unlikely to go higher than the seventh position in the regular Superleague Championship this season. On the other hand, the Moscow team reached the Champions League play-off from the uneasy group with León's Perugia.
Alekno won't go back to squad as coach for sure
There are options to attract legendary Sergey Tetyukhin and Aleksey Verbov to work. But Mr Tetyukhin has just stopped playing, while he isn't in a hurry to coach the club. He's rather tuned for administrative work (won't Stanislavov work as an eternal manager general of the national team?).
As for Mr Verbov, the situation with him is more interesting. Firstly, at the moment he is a player, and it's unlikely that such a slow federation as the RVF will announce in March a currently playing volleyball player will head the national team of Russia. This is possible, for instance, in the case of Poland – the case of French Stéphane Antiga is one of them. Secondly, even if Verbov has been a playing coach for the third season, he hasn't been seriously in the thick of work as a coach. One thing is to win against Yaroslavich and Samotlor, but another thing is to fight against Zenit from Petersburg and Fakel.
According to our newspaper's information, there is an option in which both Verbov and Tetyukhin could work in the national team. And nobody but Vladimir Alekno would supervise their activity. But the RVF is quite sceptical about this idea. Though right such an approach looks quite reasonable, as the Russian team will play in four competitions at once from May to November (the Nations League, qualification for the Olympics, European and World championships), and involvement of several people looks logical. Moreover, there will be just two days between the final of the European Championship and the beginning of the World Championship.
As for very Alekno, his fourth comeback to the national team isn't even discussed seriously. Mr Alekno seriously damaged his health in the previous attempts, and now he's ready to perform only in the role of adviser or supervisor. He won't come back as a coach for this reason – health is more valuable.
It will be very interesting to know how the story with the change of the head coach will end. According to Realnoe Vremya's sources, the first conclusions of who will be appointed to the national team can be made after the FIVB Board of Administration's meeting, which is scheduled for the second half of February. It's when the dates of the 2022 World Championship, which will be in Russia, and the host cities will be announced. For instance, if the national team of Russia plays its matches in Petersburg, it will be logical to hold its preparation in the base of Zenit, which means, to entrust the squad to Klimkin. There is an option that Novosibirsk will shake a leg where the squad plans to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo, which means Plamen's position won't be so sad if Lokomotiv plans to keep him.
Obviously, the federation doesn't have a clear decision on the candidacy for the post of coach at the moment. There will be a time of cabinet intrigues and the local Game of Thrones in Russian men's volleyball in the next two weeks.