On Thursday, August 31, the Polish national volleyball players will start their participation in the European Championships with a match against the Czech Republic. The White and Reds have been waiting for the title on the Old Continent since 2009. Ireneusz Kłos assessed especially for “Wprost” what the performance of the team under coach Nikola Grbic may look like in the next tournament.
Ireneusz Kłos, apart from his national team successes, played, among others, under the supervision of the legendary Hubert Wagner, he won many medals in club volleyball. Two championship titles in Spain (Las Palmas Gran Canaria) or four national championship victories (three with Gwardia Wrocław, one with AZS Częstochowa) are just a few items from an extensive list.
Additionally, he worked on the staff of the Polish women’s national team, alongside the late Andrzej Niemczyk. “Dzidek” was even the first coach of the national team for a short time. Three-time European vice-champion (1979, 1981, 1983) especially for “Wprost”, among others. assessed the chances of the Polish national team during the August-September tournament for the title of the best team on the Old Continent.
Interview with Ireneusz Kłos, former Polish representative, three-time European volleyball vice-champion
Maciej Piasecki (“Wprost”): How do you remember the European Championships as a player?
Ireneusz Kłos (former Polish volleyball representative, three-time European runner-up): It was definitely different back then. Only four teams competed in each group. I remember this group game as relatively easy, so here we will probably find some similarities with what is currently happening in volleyball.
We went through the group games without any problems and it was only in the knockout phase that things started to go wrong. It was getting more difficult because there were more serious opponents in the way. And as a competitor, I can only be dissatisfied that I have never brought home a gold medal from the European Championships. I kept getting these silver medals, but on the other hand, I’m glad that I stood on the podium in such tournaments as a representative.
These were and still are important achievements for me.
Did all silver taste the same?
I especially remember the second runner-up title that we won in Varna in 1981. I was then recognized as the best player of the tournament. That’s why I have the greatest sentiment for this medal and award.
However, in 1983 my entries during the match were good. We lost twice, to Romania and Bulgaria respectively. After my entry, we were able to reverse the result and won both tournament matches 3-2. We kept going and eventually were able to get our third silver in a row.
Was the USSR team out of reach of the Polish national team at that time?
We only won once with this team. And this was during a friendly tournament.
It was impossible to beat them because they were a strong team. These were the best players from all the then Soviet republics. Ukrainians, Latvians… Truly, the best team possible. Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad. The volleyball players came from different nationalities, creating a team and it was quite an art to outplay them.
Was there a difference like today between Poles and Italians?
I think this is an apt comparison, looking at volleyball arguments.
The Italians started the European Championships with a walk against the Belgians. It was clear that they were certainly well prepared for the event, the outcome of which would be decided on the Apennine Peninsula. However, I wonder what the Italians will look like in the rest of the tournament. The European Championships are not three or four days, but a logistically very extended competition.
I hope that the Polish team will play as it usually did during the victorious World Championships in 2014 and 2018. Match by match, I’m getting better and better, so that at the end I’ll be in shape worth winning gold medals.
Is getting in shape a practice we should simply prepare for?
Looking back on our own experiences from years ago, many of us might add, the beginning of a tournament is always exciting. The first meeting of any championship is very important. If you start the game well, it will remain in the minds of your team members later. It is better to win to build a foundation for later fighting with the best.
And building fitness from match to match is something that seems to be normal. And fans should be prepared that a well-prepared team knows when to play its best volleyball at the right moment.
You watched the last matches of Poles, both during the memorial games in Krakow or in Łódź against Ukraine. Are there any concerns in your mind?
I have only one concern about the way Poles play – accepting the serve. Wagner’s memorial showed that we still have a lot of catching up to do in this respect. And I’m not even talking about the perfect one, but at least the one that would allow us not only to display, but also to play the ball through various attack zones. We still have a lot to improve here.
Of course, I realize that the team may have been tired from the exhausting preparations during the training camp in Zakopane. On the other hand, lest I be pessimistic, we did a lot of damage to our opponent with our serve. So this lack of reception recently could be offset somewhat by our potential in the service field.
And who would Ireneusz Kłos appoint as the receiving duo of the Polish national team who would play from the beginning at the European Championship?
This can be considered in different categories, it’s a difficult question.
I would definitely like to pay tribute to Wilfredo Leon for improving in the reception element compared to what he presented before. After an injury that excluded him from playing in the national team last season, he returned to form thanks to which he helps the team. Although it is clear that he still has more offensive qualities on his side.
I think that in the case of receivers we should rotate, depending on who we are playing with. Nikola Grbic decided on such solutions because we had several variants of play that the Serb offered with his decisions. Currently, I have the impression that the surest reception would be a duet between Olek Śliwka and Tomek Fornal. These are really strong points in our representation in terms of party stabilization.
Kamil Semeniuk also often appeared on the pitch.
Yes, but in his case it is a negative change, considering the months he spent in Italy.
Kamil Semeniuk left ZAKSA as a European club champion and, additionally, the MVP of the decisive fight for the Champions League trophy. The Pole went to Perugia, another place to play top volleyball. In Italy, however, Semeniuk completely lost himself. I am still not convinced that this is the same Kamil we remember from previous years.
It is true that coach Grbic gives Semeniuk many chances, but this is normal, bearing in mind this player from his time working in Kędzierzyn-Koźle. The Serb wants to base the Polish national team on those players in whom he is confident.
By the way, there was a lot of talk about Łukasz Kaczmarek, that he was a chimerical player. And now it turns out that the national team really needs him, especially in the face of Bartosz Kurek’s health problems. A great example was the final game in the Nations League. Kaczmarek played brilliantly, especially in the final against the Americans for the VNL gold. Łukasz is becoming more and more needed by the national team from season to season. Moreover, it seems to me that Kaczmarek is a more versatile attacker than Bartosz Kurek.
Your specialty, i.e. the quarterback position, can we sleep soundly here?
Marcin Janusz has become a very reliable squad player for two seasons. I like the way he plays the ball to his teammates. Additionally, he is a solid point in terms of blocking, and can also add interesting, regular service. These elements are also important when we face a team with which every nuance matters.
Let us remember that Grbic relies primarily on people who function in ZAKSA’s colors, there is no point in fooling ourselves. Although he hasn’t had the opportunity to work with Janusz, he is also a man who knows his teammates. Śliwka, Kaczmarek, and the previously mentioned Semeniuk. It’s even more a pity that Kamil is still more at a deficit of what we remember from the past. He plays very unevenly and lacks the confidence he gained while playing for ZAKSA.
We can also add Paweł Zatorski to this group. Rightly?
In fact, I forgot about him! Paweł Zatorski is also a man who comes from the successes that ZAKSA reopened some time ago.
Although in Paweł’s case I must point out that I really like the way his rival in the national team, Kuba Popiwczak, looks. I have the impression that he is stepping on Zatorski’s heels more and more and we will see how this will develop. Today, I have the impression that everyone has their own arguments for playing in the national team.
Nikola Grbic w interview for TVP Sport admitted that Poles “do not feel like favorites for gold.” Is this taking pressure off the team or an actual assessment of potential?
It’s more like taking the burden off your back with expectations towards the Polish national team. I think these are the right words. I wouldn’t attach so much importance to the European Championships and what result we will achieve there. I would prefer our team to calmly get to the Olympic tournament and win a medal there, regardless of its color. But they finally put an end to this discussion about whether we deserve him, not to mention the quarter-final curse.
But do you know what would have happened if the Poles had not brought home a medal from the European Championship?
I realize. Fans, experts, pundits – you know what the reaction would be.
We should consider whether we are still able to achieve two more top performances, as was the case with the final tournament of the Nations League. Fortunately, we have substitutes and, in addition, a large background that allows us to sleep peacefully in the future. But we are talking about the here and now. That’s why I’m not going to inflate the balloon and assume before the tournament that we’re going to the European Championships for gold.
I’m curious how we will perform, actually from the first match against the Czech Republic. Even though we will be the clear favorite, the Czech game may pose a bit of a problem for us. It’s definitely not going to be a walk to fifteen in each set. The Czechs are an unpleasant opponent to play against.
I would like our team to finish the European Championship tournament in good health. We can see from the example of the girls that there are micro-injuries and the team is tired. And they have a much more difficult path to qualifying for the Olympics than the men’s team. The most important tournament in Łódź is still on the horizon.
However, the men are going to the European Championships with only three middle players. Mateusz Poręba is in reserve, his namesake Mateusz Bieniek, who has already finished the national team season, is missing. This is sport, we can talk about predictions about the result, and suddenly a few injuries – knock on wood – and the balance of power turns upside down.
You also had the opportunity to work with the women’s team, even being the first coach for a while. Did women’s successes turn men on and vice versa? I’m thinking about the last, better time for coach Stefano Lavarini’s team. And this is regardless of the defeat against the Turks.
It certainly was. Anyway, let’s agree, but that’s how men are – they don’t want to be worse than women. And we had such a show in the Nations League, when the ladies won the bronze medal. The answer of the men’s team was clear, it ended with gold.
I would like this positive confrontation between girls and boys to continue in full swing in the months and years to come. This has a very positive impact on the entire volleyball in the country, creates good emotions, and gives fans a lot of joy.