17 Aug. 2020
In March, the Russian Handball Federation announced their new men’s national coach: Velimir Petkovic. In early August, Petkovic was finally able to travel to Russia, arriving in Moscow, where his first activities will include watching and meeting national team players and top club coaches at pre-season tournaments to be held in the country’s capital and Chekhov.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a challenging time to introduce a new national team coach. Petkovic is actually the first non-Russian head coach of the Russia men’s national team in history.
“You have never had foreign specialists, but now it is a trend in Europe – to call them to awaken your teams,” said Petkovic in an interview with the Russian Handball Federation website. “Russia has every opportunity for awakening – many young players who are eager to prove their worth.
“I want to do everything to return Russian handball to its former glory.”
Petkovic, who was born in Yugoslavia and assumed German citizenship in 2002, has worked with German clubs for almost 30 years, most notably Frisch Auf Göppingen, whom he led to the EHF Cup title twice, and Füchse Berlin, with whom he reached the IHF Super Globe final twice. The announcement that he would take the helm with the Russia national team was made in early March.
“I was offered a job by several European clubs, but I chose the Russian national team,” said Petkovic. “The team performed unsuccessfully at the last European Championship, but I am sure that in terms of level it is not weaker than the same Croatian team that reached the final. And I know from my colleagues: no one goes to the game with the Russian national team confident of victory. Everyone respects the Russian handball school, and it’s a big challenge for me to try to return it to its former successes.”
Those former successes Petkovic refers to included two world titles and one European title won in the 1990s. The last title was won at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, after the team took the silver medals at the EHF EURO 2000 and the 1999 World Championship. Russia claimed one more medal after that – bronze at the 2004 Olympics – before falling in the international rankings. Now it will be Petkovic’s task to return to the team to the top.
Immediately after the announcement that Petkovic would lead the Russia team, COVID-19 confinement measures came into force, meaning that the new coach could not travel to Russia.
“I stopped following the wave of negative information and took up handball exclusively. Together with Oleg Kuleshov, we have compiled a list of 30 players with whom we plan to start working. I am slowly learning Russian,” Petkovic explained.
“I watch the games of both the Russian national team and the clubs in which these guys play. I am finishing the so-called tactical book that candidates for the national team will receive. There will be detailed game schemes and requirements for each.”
Now, Petkovic has arrived in Russia and can begin his work on the ground. One key goal for the team is the upcoming 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship in Egypt, for which Russia received one of the two wild cards designated by the IHF. The other was designated to Poland.
“Participation in the World Championship is very important for the Russian national team, especially for young players,” said Petkovic. “There is not much time left before the start of the World Championship. We need to adequately prepare for the tournament and prove with our game in Egypt that the decision made in relation to the Russian national team was correct.”
More information and the latest news on the Russian Handball Federation can be found on their official website.
Photo: Handball Federation of Russia