My guest today is the coach I have all my bets on, that very soon, he’ll be one of the best volleyball coaches in the world. He’s got all it takes: knowledge, passion, will to work hard, charisma and a great club where to develop his skills. I had the chance to spend four days with him and his team and staff during the Champions League Final Four Tournament and I got to see the training sessions, the way he interacts with the players and staff. And as I already wrote in the article about Imoco’s presence in Bucharest, I was deeply impressed. He is a great person, very polite and very friendly. I take the chance and I dare to call him a friend. With no further ado, ladies and gents, the head coach of the Croatian national team and also the head coach of the Italian Champions, IMOCO VOLLEY CONEGLIANO, mister DANIELE SANTARELLI!
Ciao Daniele and thank you for being so kind as to accept to talk to vladpop.com today. I will start with the easiest questions of them all, J, what does volleyball means for you?
It is an overwhelming passion, with it every day is alive with emotions. I met volleyball when I was young and I hope it will be with me for my whole life because without it my life would not be so beautiful!
Let’s talk a bit about you becoming one of the most promising head coaches in international volleyball. You had your years of assistant coach at Casalmaggiore and then in Imoco Volley Conegliano. At Imoco you stood in side by side with Davide Mazzanti, winning one championship and playing one Champions League Final. How much did you learn from Davide? Can we call you to be his apprentice maybe?
Let’s say that for me, Davide means everything. He believed in me without knowing me well, we discovered ourselves over the years and for me it was a pleasant discovery. I consider him as a brother to whom I am very attached because he gave me so much and taught me so much. Without him I would not be where I am now.
Everybody knows that Imoco is my favorite team in the world. I love the energy, the happiness and the feeling of joy this team brings. How hard is it to keep these moments of joy and laughter in the ranks of the squad?
There is no difficulty for me. I love my job and I am lucky to train an incredible team to which I am very attached. The club is the best that I could think and dream about for my career and the presidents have always supported me.
I got to spend almost four days with you and your team during the Champions League Final Four weekend in May and from the first moment I felt like I knew all of you for ages. I also saw the incredible chemistry the girls and the staff have. Then Luca (the general director of the club) explained that back home in Italy, all the players and the staff live in the same building. Is this the key to such a great team friendship? To live all together as neighbours, as friends, as family? Isn’t it too much of each other at some point?
It has been a very beautiful four days and we have come a step closer to the dream and I hope that the third place is just a further step forward for Imoco. Living close to each other is an advantage when at first you can create a group like the one we were able to create. I hope it can happen every year because what the girls left me is something magical that I will always carry with me
Also, from Luca I know your club is a very well organized one where everybody knows its job and does it perfectly. How easy is for a head coach to train a team when everything else is taken care of?
Imoco Volleyball is really the best for me and every year the club grows more. Everyone thinks only of doing their job and so it becomes very easy to give the best of themselves.
From the starting line-up of last season, only Samantha Bricio left the squad. The others were all confirmed for a new season in Imoco. How important is to have this kind of continuity in a world of volleyball where most of the contracts are signed only for a one-year period?
In recent years, the team at Imoco has changed a lot but fortunately this year we have managed to confirm a large part of the team from the previous season. This is a further demonstration of how well this club is working and how well the girls have been treated and how well they feel at Conegliano. For me it is a great advantage because the girls know each other well and the roster remains very strong.
I met all the girls in May, I watched them train, I watched them have fun and I realized that they are not only great players but also very strong personalities. How is it to have to deal and train some of the biggest volleyball superstars? I presume that they all have some days when you have to treat them special. How do you manage such a squad of huge personalities and talents?
The team was really great, for me it was a pleasure to train them, I grew up with them and every day we all worked together without any distinction just for the sake of us and the club. Coaching strong players simply means understanding their needs and giving them the chance to fully express their talent.
In your first year as a head coach you managed to win the Italian Championship and the bronze medal in the Champions League, playing the second Champions League Final Four tournament in a row. How is that for a debut year?
I consider it a positive year, we have struggled to try to win in Italy and in Europe but we know it’s never easy. But this is just the beginning for me, I have to work and learn a lot more and I hope to deserve the renewal with Imoco Conegliano next year.
Your season also had some sad moments unfortunately. The negative series of results in February, the unfortunate injuries of Robin, Rapha and Megan, they all seemed rough obstacles but somehow you managed to push through to a successful finish of the season. What was the secret behind this come-back?
The team had to endure very difficult moments, but they fought and suffered together and in the difficulties it became even stronger. Everyone gave their best and the players built a TEAM together
Is the semifinal with Vakifbank in the Champions League the saddest match of the season? I must admit, for me it is still heartbreaking every time I look back at the pictures and images from back then because anyone winning this semifinal would have easily won the trophy.
For me the most difficult defeat was the one in the Coppa Italia, because we felt we had that game in hand and we did not play well. The semi-final against Vakifbank was a difficult game but when it was over I had the feeling that the team has done its best, so, I can not be sad about what we did. Sport is like this, we will try it next year!
You have just been appointed head coach of the Croatian national team. How proud are you of this? Is the job as a national team coach totally different than the one as a club head coach?
I am very proud of the new position as a coach of the Croatian national team, for me it is a real honour to represent a country and I will give my best to try to do good for Croatian volleyball. The work does not change, but the rhythms of the workouts change because the competitions are different and moreover we often work with a greater number of players than the club.
Your wife, Monica, is the libero of your team and also of the Italian national team. Exceptional player. Yet, how do you manage to separate the family business from the player-coach relationship?
Monica and I are professionals, we love our work and being together is an advantage for us. What happens in the gym does not interfere in our life and to train her is too easy for me and I will never have a relationship with her that is different from the one with the other players
In the end, I will repeat what I told you in May: for me, you are a great coach and I am 100% sure that you will become one of the greatest coaches in volleyball history. Daniele, I wish you all the best.
Thank you so much for your words, I will work every day for this and I hope to fulfil your expectations. See you soon!!
*photos are taken from Danielle’s FB archive and from the photo gallery of Imoco Volley Conegliano web site: http://www.imocovolley.it/