Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has given the Kerala Blasters many memorable moments in the ISL but what was his first love when it came to sport?
“First, I was attracted to basketball. Because one of my neighbours was a big basketball player. He was in the national team and my idol,” revealed the Serb in a chat with Sportstar on the sidelines of the Kochi Blue Spikers’ jersey launch on Tuesday night for the upcoming Prime Volleyball League.
“Our No. 1 sport should be basketball because Serbia (earlier a part of Yugoslavia), together with the United States, was a five-time World champion, Olympic Games winner and European champion.”
He had also played volleyball for seven years. “In our school system, you play all sports. And in the town where I was born, we had a women’s volleyball team which was three-time European champion. For me, it was the first feeling of being part of something important, cheering them along with some 5,000 people in the hall.”
Though Vukomanovic was good at basketball, football and volleyball, his school’s sports teacher felt he could excel in football.
“After eight years in primary school, you choose your game. When I was 10 or 11 years old, we were playing all sports but my teachers were telling me, ‘you are talented in football, you will go to the football section’,” he said.
“In school education, the first job of our sports teachers is to find talent. And they advise them, with their parents, to go to some clubs.. All schools have contacts with clubs.
“At 17, I got a professional contract with my football club... .and there was no looking back.”
PVL, which begins on February 4 in Bengaluru and ends on March 5 in Kochi, will be the qualifying event for the World Club Championship which India will host in December.
And Vukomanovic could perhaps help build bridges between Serbia (11 th in volleyball’s World rankings; India’s 68th) and Kochi to take the Blue Spikers, which is owned by the Muthoot Pappachan Group, to a higher level.
“I have a couple of good friends who played at the top level, national team and with top European clubs. Many of our top male players later became coaches in big European clubs and even in national teams,” said Vukomanovic.
Serbia could also offer some valuable lessons to India in sport.
“We are a small nation, a country of seven million people. And within those seven million, you have world champions in women’s volleyball, men’s volleyball, basketball, handball, water polo and tennis,” said Vukomanovic.
“In basketball, for the last two years, the best player in the world’s biggest league - NBA - was a Serbian. And in the small town where I was born (Uzice), we had one of the best defenders in the history of the English Premier League football - Nemanja Vidic. And after Novak Djokovic (World No. 1), tennis has became something huge.”