Stefano Lavarini with dilemmas before the Olympic season. Former Polish representative: He will not take anyone for their merits

Stefano Lavarini with dilemmas before the Olympic season.  Former Polish representative: He will not take anyone for their merits

Polish volleyball players will play at the Olympic Games for the first time in 15 years. According to Łukasz Kruk, a former Polish representative, Stefano Lavarini's players have a good chance of causing a surprise. However, the director of MOYA Radomki Radom does not understand some of the decisions made by individual players.

Polish volleyball fans can expect many emotions in the 2024 season. Both Nikola Grbic's and Stefano Lavarini's teams will compete at the Olympic Games in Paris. There is much greater expectation for the men who were unrivaled at every tournament last year. However, fans of women's volleyball can also expect an ambitious fight.

Interview with Łukasz Kruk, former Polish representative

Łukasz Kruk has been playing volleyball at the highest level for years. The junior world champion and former representative of the senior national team has been professionally associated with MOYA Radomka Radom for years, serving as the managing director. The club from the south of the Masovian Voivodeship has been knocking at the top of the league, Tauron Liga, for years. This season, sixth place at the end of the regular phase condemned them to play in the quarterfinals against the runner-up, PGE Rysice Rzeszów.

In an interview with “Wprost” conducted in Warsaw during the 7th Sport Business Polska Congress, Kruk talks about the season and future plans of his club, the current Tauron Liga, and also refers to the expectations towards the national teams. The former playmaker did not bite his tongue when criticizing some of the decisions of the Polish players.

Michał Winiarczyk, “Wprost”: A lot of your former colleagues at the congress. Do you find it easy in this business group?

Łukasz Kruk: It is known that on the pitch you felt like a fish out of water. I have been the managing director of MOYA Radomki Radom for six years, so I had to get used to wearing a suit. I see many friends from the community here – Piotrek Gruszka, Gosia Glinka, Wojtek Winnik, so I feel more confident. Volleyball has strong support in this Conference.

You can't separate professional sport from business. Hence the idea of ​​this Congress, which helps connect the dots in our work. I've been here for the third time and I think it's worth being here because you can learn a lot of interesting things.

Moving on to volleyball, Radomka has had mixed results this season. This happened, among others: to change the coach. Are you satisfied with the result?

Our appetite reaches for the top four. The sixth place after the regular phase condemned us to PGE Rysice Rzeszów. It will not be easy for us to win this competition (the Rzeszów team is leading 1-0 in the best-of-two competition – MW note). If this fails, we are left with another mini-goal – taking fifth place in the Ekstraklasa. This will give us the opportunity to play in European cups, which Radomka has never played in before. We would like to host cool international bands in our new hall.

“Radomka's sports director, Łukasz Kruk, said that the team's goal is to finish in the top four. I think it would be a great result and I think we are able to shape our game to achieve it,” he said. Monika Gałkowska told me before the season started.

I will remind Monika of this interview, because she has a lot in her hands (laughter). To answer seriously – many teams are competing for the Top 4, apart from the familiar three, we also have to include BKS Bielsko-Biała and Budowlani Łódź. We are being blamed for our country's representatives, but they have them too. Each of these clubs plus us has strong teams. Sometimes you'll make it to the top four, sometimes you won't. Our goals were certainly higher, but they are still not impossible.

Does the club already have a squad ready for next season?

We have one contract left to sign for the host competing for the top six. Apart from that, we have a 98% closed squad. Four volleyball players will remain from the current team. We weren't able to keep some of them, and in other cases we wanted to strengthen the competition in positions. Surprisingly, the girls on the bench that we wanted to leave will leave. We didn't want to make a big noise in the locker room, but they probably got better offers from other teams. The lineups change significantly every year. The days of long-term attachment to colors are over.

Is coach Jakub Głuszak staying for next season?

I can't say that yet.

Does anyone or something surprise you this season? BKS Bostik ZGO Bielsko-Biała is looking good for another season. In turn, ŁKS Commercecon Łódź had big problems.

If people complain about us, they should also look at ŁKS. They also performed below expectations, taking fourth place. Because of this, a more difficult ladder awaits them. I think they will move on, but they have made their job more difficult. In turn, BKS was ranked so high for a reason. One can talk about an easier ladder in the Polish Cup, but at the end they had to defeat the favored ŁKS. The good transfers of Ola Jagieło and the solid coaching work of Bartek Piekarczyk are bringing results. This is a big plus of this season of Tauron League. A slight minus for us and ŁKS, although all is not lost yet. Taking fifth place will also be beneficial for us.

We are at a conference where sport mixes with business. At this point, I must ask about the fate of Grupa Azoty Chemika Police. Did this surprise you?

Every company makes decisions. In Kędzierzyn-Koźle, the budget was more balanced. Although Grupa Azoty provides large funds, there is also local support. Apart from volleyball, there is no big sport in this city. I still remember, when my father was a coach, how popular volleyball matches were there.

Police, on the other hand, is actually Szczecin, so it is more difficult. I heard that due to the huge amount of money poured into the club, Grupa Azoty did not want other sponsors on their shirts. The fall of Chemik will be a great loss for Polish volleyball. The team that regularly played in European cups and… spoiled our transfer work will disappear. They could afford to pay the player a contract 25-30 percent higher than her market price. I hope that the Police will not go bankrupt. Clubs with a budget of PLN 2 million remained in the Tauron Liga. Everything is in the hands not so much of president Frankowski, but of the club's owners.

How do you see the chances of Stefano Lavarini's women's team in the Olympic season?

The wonderful thing is that we don't have to fight with all our strength for points in the Nations League. However, I believe that in order to outplay the players, we should fight for the highest possible place in the tournament anyway. Apart from Asia Wołosz, we don't have many players with experience of playing in big matches. Some teams will skip the VNL because of the Olympics, and some will push themselves to get an Olympic qualification at the last minute. Poland can play loosely and bring home another medal. This will only confirm that last year was not a fluke.

As for the Olympics, anything can happen here. It's a completely different event. We can see this in the example of the men's team, which has been ruling the world for almost 20 years, and when the Olympic tournament comes, something goes wrong. Maybe it will work the other way around for girls. I see good prospects for this season.

Martyna Czyrniańska had health problems and does not play much for Eczacibasi. Olivia Różański also had downtime in Bergamo. Is this a cause for concern for the coach?

There is also Górecka, who is just returning from injury. I think that among those not playing or returning from injury, Lavarini will choose the one that will suit him best in the team. Earlier we talked about Monika Gałkowska. After the national team season, she experienced ups and downs in the club in the Tauron Liga. In turn, Malwina Smarzek is pushing hard for the competition, playing well in Italy.

I don't know whether the coach will be more guided by the form at a given moment or whether he will focus on the group of players he has been working with for two years. Let's leave it to him. Lavarini brought the national team out of a bit of oblivion. I am convinced that he will choose the best volleyball players. In case of difficult decisions, he can rely on Olympic qualifications. However, it will certainly not be the case that a much better player will come to the training camp and another player will go to the tournament because she has played before. Lavarini will not take volleyball players to the Olympics just for merit. He can only call up 12 girls, so a strong selection is expected.

As for the mentioned players. Rozanski spent the season recovering and getting back into the squared circle. She was plagued by injuries, so maybe in her case it will be the same with Aleksander Śliwka, whose injury also allowed him to rest before the national team season.

Since you mention Śliwka. Can you feel sorry for Nikola Grbic because he has too many good players? He has quite a challenge choosing twelve.

There's probably nothing to feel sorry for him. It's better to have six world-class receivers and give up two than to have three and choose a fourth who is out of the team. Someone will definitely be dissatisfied. You can't play magic by taking five receivers and having one of them act as an emergency attacker. Bartek Kurek had health problems, and Łukasz Kaczmarek himself, although he is now a full-fledged member of the national team, may not be enough.

Lavarini is in the opposite situation to Nikola Grbic, who will have to choose a player from among those who have played less. But in this case, the decisions made by the volleyball players from a year ago will be atonement. After all, no one forced them to Turkey or Italy. Czyrniańska could continue to play in Chemik and spend the pre-Olympic season in Tauron Liga. Maybe in the future, players will know better what is more important to them at a given moment.

Is it appropriate to talk about the volleyball team's Olympic gold?

Yes, because we are talking about reality. If we are two-time world champions, runners-up, European champions, Nations League winners, first team in the FIVB ranking, then on what basis should we think otherwise? I won't say that winning in Paris is an obligation, but we are certainly the main favorite next to the Americans and Italians. The Games will show who can handle playing at the highest level mentally best.

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