The Malta Independent 20 May 2022, Friday

Interview: Aleksandar Ivovic leads San Giljan domination of waterpolo league

Domenic Aquilina Monday, 31 July 2017, 08:36 Last update: about 6 years ago

Aleksandar Ivovic has always been a household name in international waterpolo, but this summer, Maltese waterpolo lovers are having the opportunity of getting to know and see in action the 31-year-old Montenegrin waterpolo athlete who was engaged by San Giljan TUM Invest. Domenic Aquilina writes

Montenegrin Ivovic is one of the hottest waterpolo players in international waterpolo circulation – probably even the world’s number 1 in this sport at the moment.  His powerful right hand drive is a nightmare for any opposition and he is proving this as San Ġiljan TUM Invest dominate the local waterpolo scene and comfortably sit at the top of the BOV Premier League table edging closer to their tenth league title – and the star symbol that will now be making part of the San Ġiljan Crest.

 

Pro Recco stalwart

Nicknamed “Leks” - short for his name Aleksander, Ivovic is one of the stalwarts of Italian Serie A outfit Pro Recco 1913 with whom he starred at the Final Six Championship in Barcelona in 2015, helping Pro Recco lift their eighth Euro Champions League title.  Incidentally interesting to note that the Italian waterpolo club from Recco is the world’s most successful club when it comes to winning silverware.

A very charismatic, down-to-earth person, Ivovic instantly laughed at my initial remarks about him starting playing waterpolo at the young age of 8 years in his native Baisoici, Montenegro

“Bravo! – you pronounce Baisoici the right way, as it is not easy to pronounce!  Yes I started off in this sport at this age.  I did a swimming course between the ages of 7 and 8 and then I started to play waterpolo in my home town which is very small, only around 2,000 people living there.  Our coastline is just like that of Malta, everyone has his club pitch like San Ġiljan, Neptunes, Sliema, Sirens etc.  So it was so easy for me to practice this sport as I practically had to choose the pool just under my door step.  It all started as a leisure thing, I used to play the sport with my friends, then we started playing matches and it got more interesting and serious at this point.”

 

San Giljan

How did it all happen with San Ġiljan was the next question referred to the 197 centimetres Montengrin giant water athlete.  Again he grinned before answering my question.

“San Ġiljan were the most determined from all the clubs who came forward.  I have to say that they contacted me 2 or 3 years ago but I could not commit myself as I had very important commitments with my national team of Montenegro. 

"Then this summer some free space opened up and I decided to come to play waterpolo in Malta at a less competitive manner than my usual routine.  It has been 10 consecutive years playing for my national team at a very high competitive level. 

"I must say that I am very happy to have chosen San Ġiljan, a club with big ambitions and who have worked very hard in recent years to catch up with Neptunes and win titles.  They showed this by winning the title two years ago so it was sort of the perfect match for me.  I had no problem in choosing San Ġiljan, it was very easy to decide to come to Malta”.

“I have to say that I knew lots of things about San Ġiljan.  Many of my friends have enjoyed playing in Malta, including Vladimir Gojkovic who played in Malta a couple of years ago for Neptunes and is now the head coach of the Montenegro national team.  All my other friends who have played here never mentioned a negative thing about Malta in general and about playing here.

"My Pro Recco team mate Guillermo Molina and Boris Vapenski also spoke highly about San Ġiljan, about their amazing supporters and that the persons running it are very professional.  The locals in this San Ġiljan team are very good, as you know two or three of them even went to Serbia to sharpen up their skills.  All this added up for me to make my decision to come to Malta and taste the flavour of the island.”

We spoke about San Ġiljan TUM Invest practically gripping a good stronghold of the BOV Premier Division this season.

“Yes. In a way I was surprised how things turned out.  I did not expect that we could dominate the proceedings this way.  Not even my previous colleagues who have played in Malta have won the title this way as we are doing.  I am saying 'won' because as you know we only need two wins to make sure of the title – and we have to play the side at the bottom of the table.  Of course we have to respect any opposition but if we keep on playing the way we have been, well the title should be ours.  This was the club’s objective this season – so first we have to win the title and then celebrate after” grinned the Montenegro player.

 

Local talent

Ivovic spoke about the level of waterpolo on the island “It is difficult to compare the Maltese top tier to that of Italy.  In Italy waterpolo is played at the highest level – one of the best top divisions in the world, probably the most difficult after the Hungarian league. 

"Here it is different because the foreign players playing here are usually better than the locals so tactically these players are checked individually during the game.  This boils down to that club who has the best Maltese players around.  That side who has the best Maltese talent has the best chances to win the title as is the case with San Ġiljan.  We have the best Maltese players, with even youngsters doing well. 

"I went to see an Under-20 match and I was pleased about all the enthusiasm which these lads have for the sport.  I also noticed the emotions they put up and this is nice because this sport has not really generated itself on the island like football, basketball etc.  If you are not enthusiastic you cannot work and participate in this sport, and it is nice to see Maltese players and people who are so enthusiastic about this sport!”

 

Position

The next question referred to his favourite position in this sport. “Interesting to know that I started off as a defender.  It all changed when Montenegro gained its’ independence in 2006.  With players going to play for different countries I had the chance to experiment in other positions so I went from right to left and from there I must say that I gained so much experience in playing in different roles, thus making my role more of a multipurpose player.”

 

Objectives

Our conversation switches to that of him hitting peak form at 31 years.  With another smile he confirms his fine form for San Ġiljan this season. 

“Sure but I have to take this form with me back to Italy with Pro Recco.  It all depends over my form with Pro Recco and my national team.  I do think I can still play at this level for 2 or 3 more years.  My main objective is that I conclude my international career at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020.  Of course everything depends about being lucky and overcoming injuries and so forth.  In this sense I can say I have been lucky not to have had any serious injuries.  It all depends over doing big sacrifices and working hard to get there just like any other professional athlete in any sport discipline.  This is what I do myself in order to keep playing as much as possible”.

 

Best athlete in Montenegro

The Montenegro player was voted as “Best Athlete of the Year” for 2015 and 2016 by the Montenegrin Olympic Committee. 

This is what Aleks had to say about it “Personally for me it was a very big satisfaction.  The amazing season in 2014/15 with Pro Recco in which we lifted the LEN Champions League besides the Italian and Cup double helped in this.

Montenegro has produced and still produces very powerful athletes in different sport disciplines. "The national football team has done well in the qualification campaign, the female handball team recently won silver, basketball is also doing well, but I must say that waterpolo has become the trademark of Montenegrin sport.  We have won more medals than any other sport discipline.”

“Yes it started off with a bang,” stated an enlighted Ivovic. “We won gold in Malaga, Spain, in 2008 ,winning the European Championships. The reception we received when we got back home is still vivid in my mind.  30,000 people welcomed us in the main square.  It was unbelievable especially for the fact that we started off from nothing in 2007 – we did not even have a proper Association because Serbia took everything with them, all the medals we won together and all.  So you can imagine our joy at this success at our first real attempt.  This was my most memorable moment in my career.”

Then a year later we won the FINA World League in Montenegro beating Croatia 8-7 in the final.”

 

Memorable moments – wishlist

His most memorable moments was the next talking point Ivovic spoke about. “Again this gold European Championship medal in 2008 and the first LEN Champions League with Pro Recco in 2012 remain my two most memorable moments. 

On the other hand, an Olympic Gold is the one I want to conquer.  I have taken part in three Olympic games with my team and we have finished fourth on these three occasions.  The games are special – you live in a village made up of 10,000 persons, you meet big athletes. 

So in this aspect that Olympic gold is still missing and I would very much love to get this right in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with a team which, on paper, looks less strong but we have four or five new young players who look promising for the future.  Sometimes not the best team wins and as long there is hope I believe that I can win that medal which is missing.  That would be the cherry on the cake.  It is the number one priority on my wishlist as a professional athlete.”

 

World’s best

The best in the world question popped up during the latter part of our conversation. “Serbia remains the best in the world.  They are a generation in this sport like Hungary.  Now they have won the only title which they were missing in the last Olympics.  Well, on paper, they are still the most powerful.  I have seen a game or two during the actual Swimming Championships in Budapest and they are still the force they have always been.”

 

Working hard – key to success

Seemingly expecting the question if he would be back in Malta next season and if it would be with San Ġiljan TUM Invest, he again cracked a couple of smiles. “I do not think so!  When I spoke with my Association representatives they gave me the permission to come to Malta and get an active break – because even here I have to work hard with my team to win titles.  You cannot succeed in any type of work if you do not push yourself and this was the case in coming here to Malta.  I have talked with club President Daniel Aquilina that it would not be possible for me to come over in the coming two or three years until the Tokyo Olympics.  Could be I will be back after the Olympic games!”

After shaking hands and thanking this gentle giant athlete for the lovely conversation, my mind went back to a conversation I had with San Ġiljan TUM Invest President Aquilina earlier on this season, when he clearly depicted Aleks in his own words.  “Aleksandar is one of the best foreigners to have graced the local competitions but away from his undisputed talent, he is so humble and friendly.  In other words a great athlete but an equally great gentleman who doesn’t act differently because of his success. 

“He makes himself available for fans and the youths for selfies and chats with everyone.  As a player and a leader, his personal CV and his performances speak for themselves.  It is an honour and privilege to have brought over possibly the current world number one player in international waterpolo to our Club, to help us achieve the tenth league title in the history of the club which will be mortalised and symbolised by the star that will soon be part of our club emblem. 

“Special thanks goes to Club Manager Alfredo Spiteri de Barro for his unrelentless persistence with Ivovic over the years until we finally succeeded in landing him to San Ġiljan”.

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