Ivano Balic: “Today’s handball is easier for the players” | Sports

Ivano Balic, in the European last year.
Ivano Balic, in the European last year.Pixsell/MB Media (Getty Images)

Ivano Balic (Split, Croatia; 43 years old), one of the last greats in the history of handball, looks back and confesses in fairly decent Spanish that he likes the game of his time better. In Spain, his fantasy left its mark during four seasons (2004-2008) at Portland San Antonio, to which he arrived attracted by the presence of his idol Jackson Richardson, and gave his last brushstrokes at the also extinct Atlético de Madrid (2012-13 ), before retiring in 2015 at German Wetzlar. World champion (2003) and Olympic champion (2004), and named the best player on the planet twice (2003 and 2006), the former center-back is now Croatia’s second coach. “Is not difficult. We don’t have the players for a long time, so you can’t do many things with them, ”he explains sincerely in a video call with this newspaper.

Question. Was it your idea to dedicate yourself to the benches?

Reply. Before I was the director of all the national teams, at the base. I like being with young people, it’s a more serious job. They must learn the basic things and I can influence. It is very difficult to improve a 27-year-old player. He has his head and you can only give him advice so that he sees other options, but little else. With the little ones, if they want to listen to you and have talent, you can do more things.

Q. Does the older player listen?

R. Yes, although each one is different. You can yell at one, you have to caress another… It’s not easy. The mental aspect is the most complicated thing now in a locker room because you have to know the player and, when you are in a national team, there is no time. You can only have small talk and you don’t see the person he is. Maybe in the future I’ll be head coach, but now, if something comes up with the kids, I’d like to do that.

Q. You were very creative on the track. Does the current coach encourage that?

R. Before the players were more imaginative and better tactically. Such fast center kicks have changed handball a lot. You play less six against six and you shoot more from outside. You have to adapt. Let’s see if in five or 10 years something changes. I liked my time better. You must have been very smart to be in the elite because the defenses were tougher. Today they don’t care much about defending. The most important thing is to run and shoot, and score one more goal. Before, one less goal was played.

Q. You needed to be smarter and now stronger.

R. Yes, and they have to run a lot. The one who can play in attack and defense is worth more. It is more difficult to make attack-defense changes. Before you could change three and up to four players, just like us in Pamplona, ​​with Zupo [Equisoain]. Today you can live with one. But with two it is very difficult.

Now one more goal is played; before, one goal less

Q. Would this time have cost you more?

R. I liked to defend, but they didn’t let me much. I don’t know, you never know. I liked my time and enjoyed it a lot. I’m happy with the time I got.

Q. He always said that his goal was to have fun on the track. Now do they have fun with so much physical demand?

R. If you’re in a good team, sure, because you score a lot of goals (laughs). I don’t know, it’s a question for them. I always liked to study the game and see how they defended to outsmart the rival. You had to adapt, also during the match if you saw that something was not working. You had to think, not just listen to the coach. Today it seems easier. There are many more situations to score easy goals.

Ivano Balic, on the left, together with the Croatian coach, Hrvoje Horvat, a few months ago.
Ivano Balic, on the left, together with the Croatian coach, Hrvoje Horvat, a few months ago.Pixsell/MB Media (Getty Images)

Q. Is it true that, when you arrived in Pamplona, ​​they gave you a book with Portland plays and you threw it away because there were so many?

R. Yes. Zupo gave me a very fat book, there were many things in it. I have always played a little differently. He would study the one next to me to find out what he liked and what he didn’t. Set pieces are good, but not so much for me. When you have been playing handball for many years, you already know what you play. It seemed to me that I did not need it.

Q. And what did Zupo tell him?

R. He didn’t find out.

Q. As a coach, have you had to prepare a similar book?

R. No, I have spent more time with children and they need to learn the simplest. If you master that, you can win 80% of the matches. I feel good with young people, they listen to you. Most try to do what you tell them. With older people it is better to talk alone, they don’t like it very much if you do it in front of their classmates.

In Pamplona they gave me a very fat book with plays and I threw it away

Q. You started playing handball late.

R. With 15 and a half years. Before he had done soccer, basketball and a little water polo. I think it’s better that way. Today they start very early with a single sport. They don’t know soccer, or shoot baskets, and that helps you. It is a very serious handicap because each sport can help you.

Q. Didn’t you do any handball until you were 15?

R. No, but I had seen a lot at home because my parents practiced it. I was always in the pavilion, more with my father than with my mother. He would pull sometimes, but nothing serious. So I liked basketball much more. I’m from Split and there was the Jugoplastika [equipo inolvidable con Kukoc, Radja y Perasovic que ganó la Copa de Europa en 1989, 1990 y 1991]. We all wanted to be there, even though we didn’t play many games at the time. In the three years that I was there, five. I got to handball and after five days I already had the first one. I liked that better.

Q. How would you define your career?

R. I’m happy with what I did, I think I always gave my best. I wanted to be the best handball player possible, and I didn’t do badly.

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