Interview with Ivica Tucak

Total Croatia News

An interview with the manager of the Croatian water polo national team.

Ivica Tucak, the manager of Croatian water polo team, is a unique phenomenon in Croatian sports. He became the manager, somewhat unexpectedly, in 2012. At the World Championship in 2013 in Barcelona, he won the bronze medal, and at the last World Championships in Kazan in 2015 silver. He also won the silver medal last year at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The peak of his coaching career occurred last week when he and the Croatian team became the world champions in Budapest, reports Jutarnji List on 7 August 2017.

“None of us said we would win the gold long before the championship. We started believing that was possible during the preparation period. We have achieved the desired level of play, concentration, determination, everything… We felt we had nothing to fear, even the mighty Serbia, which has been victorious against us in recent years. What I saw during the group stage further strengthened my belief.”

Next year, the primary goal will be the European Championships in Barcelona. “We have agreed we will not play the World League next year. The reason is simple: the finals will be played in Japan at the same time as the Mediterranean Games in Spain. Our most significant competition next year will be the European Championships in Barcelona, and it would be stupid to fly all the way to Japan when we are already in Spain. The gap between the Mediterranean Games and the European Championships will be filled with a tournament that we will try to organise somewhere in Croatia, with the participation of the best world teams.”

“There is no doubt that we have established good training model in the Croatian Water Polo Federation. That started during my predecessor Ratko Rudić’s term and will continue in the future as well. We want to be at the top of every competition; we always want a medal, preferably gold. This competition cycle will conclude at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, where we will try to repeat the Olympic gold medal from London 2012. Yes, that is my ultimate goal, I want European and Olympic gold.”

Tucak has a great relationship with water polo legend Ratko Rudić, who was his advisor but did not interfere with his work. “He has won everything, and there is no reason for him to interfere. I like to accept any suggestion, and also criticism if it is founded. I always sit down with my associates because I could never succeed without them. They are the ones who make me better. And, in the end, players are the most important people, what am I without them?”

“If was not easy to take over the national team. It was a big responsibility, but I believed in myself, despite initial criticism. I believe this is just a good start of a larger project. We have a lot of players who will compete at the major competitions in the future. These 13 great guys now have a monument, but they have not cemented their place in the team. We are always going to take the best 13 players.”

Tucak likes to talk about his early water polo days. “I started playing when I was eight years old. Several classmates were already playing, so I said to mom and dad that I wanted to play water polo. I will be honest; I was a very talented player. I was a member of all the Yugoslavian youth national teams and the winner of all possible medals at major competitions. When I was only 15 years, I was a candidate for the strong team of Solaris, where I played for the first time when I was 16. After that, I played for Crvena Zvezda, moved to Italy, and then returned to Šibenik. Although I was really good, I did not play much for the Croatian national team. Two reasons were crucial. In 1991, I was not invited to the national team, and that hurt me. The manager told me later he could not have called me because I used to play for Crvena Zvezda. But, I have to admit that the second reason was my lifestyle, where friends, cafes and socialising were as important as water polo. Today, I can easily confess that Tucak as a manager would never call Tucak as a player to play for the national team.”

“Even while I was playing, I really wanted to be a coach. While playing in Italy, I would come home during the summer and coach lower league teams. I started more seriously immediately after my playing career was over. I was at first an assistant in the first team, I then ran a junior team and demonstrated what I could do. Then I became the primary coach of Šibenik, achieving excellent results, including in the LEN Cup and the Champions League. In parallel with Šibenik, I was the manager of youth national teams, with juniors becoming the world champions. After that came the invitation from Jadran from Herceg Novi and then the national team.”

Tucak is extremely dissatisfied with the attitude of politicians and the state towards athletes, especially coaches. “That is incredible. I have tried to talk with State Secretary for Sports Janica Kostelić on two occasions, but I did not get an affirmative answer. Our players will get for this gold less than Hungarians get for silver or Serbs for bronze. Coaches are in a particularly disadvantaged position. How is it possible that I, as a coach in a team sport, do not have the right to a pension? No one can explain to me that a coach does not deserve a reward.”

“There need to be stricter criteria. We cannot finance all sports, and some sports must have special status. Water polo will never be like football, but it cannot be just like any other sport. Handball and water polo have brought us so much success and have become our best ambassadors. Politicians are here just to have their photos taken with us and to earn a few political points, and that is all.”

During the Homeland War, Tucak gave his contribution. “It is true, but my contribution was so small that I do not like to even talk about it. It is much less than what many other people have given.”

Nothing is a taboo for Tucak, not even a personal tragedy, the death of his three-year-old daughter in 2005. “That is my personal tragedy and the tragedy of my wife. Why this had to happen and why in such a bizarre way, there is no answer to that. She was one of the most beautiful and loving, smartest children in the world. Only those who have experienced something similar, know what I’m talking about. That was the state of such a shock in which you cannot understand anything, It’s been a while, but even today I cannot fully figure out why it had to happen.” Still, he had to continue with his life and is now a good example that it is always worth to fight and get up to one’s feet.

Tucak is one of those people who truly despise politics. “Let me say that I respect the people who deal with politics, but I could never have that job. I am not interested in politics. Who is the right, the left, the centre, this is the least important thing for me. I love Croatia above all; I have said it a million times. This is my homeland, but I cannot dislike someone just because they are from Serbia or some other place. I know that during the war many people experienced tragedies and lost their loved ones. I respect that, but I really think it’s time to start living a normal life. To look at other people in a certain way just because they are Serbs or Africans… that is total stupidity. A human being is a human being, no matter where he or she comes from. Many people who live in Šibenik do not like me, and I do not like them, so the fact that they are Croats does not mean anything.”

Translated from Jutarnji List.


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