Andrija Prlainović has won it all. Literally. And he did it, not just once, but a few times. There are not so many examples in professional sports like him. Prlainovic is a natural leader of the team. Not always the best scorer, but always scoring the most important goal in clutch moments.
Last summer he switched Italy and Pro Recco for Hungary and Szolnoki water polo club. It seems that this was a perfect move for a guy who is 29 years old and last month was nominated for 2016 LEN Best Male Water Polo Player Award, alongside compatriots Filip Filipovic and Branislav Mitrovic, Croat Marko Bijac and Montenegrin Darko Brguljan.
“Basically, I am satisfied, although the first part of the season I was ill and because of that, I didn’t train40 days. Pretty soon I was back in the rhythm and played games. I think the whole team plays very well since January, we won a lot of games and most of them very convincingly”, Prlainovic told in the interview for Waterpology.com.
A couple of days ago his Szolnoki side broke into the leading place in the Hungarian championship standings after winning a derby against Eger. It was jus one of the many games against this rival that Prlainovic expects to play this season.
“We have four more matches until the end of the second part of the championship, but the most important will be the one in Eger. This is a game that will decide the first place for the playoffs. Most likely, in that match, a tie would be enough for us to secure the first place. Also, it’s clear that Szolnoki and Eger are two main contenders for the title.”
And he is very satisfied with a decision to come to Hungary this season. Prlainovic thinks that this is the place to be in European water polo at this moment.
“Let me put it this way – Hungarian league at this moment is the best competition in Europe, something like German Bundesliga in handball. It’s perfectly organized, there is a high concentration of quality. And in the other leagues, you also have one or two teams that stand out. But, in Hungary among the eight best teams it’s not a big surprise when someone loses points in away matches. There are a lot of interesting games. Hungarians have a league that will continue to grow in the future.”
This revolution in Hungarian and European water polo started, in a way, in Szolnoki according to Prlainovic.
“Now, Hungarian clubs and financially stronger than in the past. It all started from a creating a powerful Szolnoki team. With this began a kind of invasion of Serbian players to Hungary. The first Serbian player in Szolnoki was Zivko Gocic. Then Milan Aleksic and Stefan Mitrovic arrived. After them, Hungarian clubs started signing top-quality players from other countries also.”
At this moment comparing to the most of the teams in Europe competing on a high level, Hungarian teams really do look like true giants in every aspect of the game. This is all but coincidence.
“OSC, Szolnok, Ferencvaros and Eger are among eight financially strongest clubs in Europe. It may happen that three of Hungarian teams play in the Final six tournament. And there’s also Ferencvaros who plays the finals of the Eurocup. Also, do not forget Vasas and Honved, which are water polo giants of Hungary, most successful clubs in the country historically speaking, and have a great tradition.”
Prlainovic explains that in Hungary there is a stable and very organized system in water polo, especially considering finances. The vast majority of the clubs don’t have problems with solvency.
“Hungary has made a clear system of financing it’s water polo clubs. Some of them have bigger budgets, some smaller, but there is enough for all. And all the players get paid in time, the are no debts. In this part, Hungary is even ahead of Italy.”
STAYING IN SZOLNOKI FOR TWO MORE YEARS
Serbian ace also revealed that he signed a new contract with Szolnok and that is a very good proof how good he feels there at the moment.
“It’s true. We quickly agreed and I signed for two more seasons. Also, I am learning Hungarian. It is a difficult language, but I hope soon I will be able to speak.”
As for Szolnoki’s European journey this season, Prlainovic has made it clear, like always. Winning the title in Champions league is something this Hungarian club set as a main and very realistic target.
“Szolnok has the biggest ambitions in the Champions League. Last season we won the third place, and in the semi-finals, we played against Olympiakos match with an incredible finish. This season, the first objective is to make a step further and get into the finals. We are very motivated, and we should not forget that the Final Four tournament is in Budapest. Winning the trophy would be a huge thing for Szolnok, and I’m sure we will have a good chance of it”, says Prlainovic while analyzing rest of the competition.
“Besides the three Hungarian teams, I expect Pro Recco, Olympiakos, and Jug to qualify to the Final six tournament”, said a man who already won the Champions league four times – twice with Pro Recco (twice), Partizan and Red Star.
Prlainovic is also known for speaking very openly about the problems Serbian water polo clubs are facing in the past years and now. And he did say it publicly also immediately after winning the Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer. Ironically, it was the hour of the greatest success of Serbian water polo in history.
“In Serbia, the situation is the same – bad. Our clubs have no competitive ambitions in Europe, nor in the Adriatic League. Except perhaps for Partizan, but the question is whether they will qualify for the Final Four in the regional competitions even if this season is the weakest competition since the inauguration. As for the Red Star, the best proof of bad situation in the club is the fact it is playing in the second tier of regional competition. And just four years ago this club won the Champions League. To put it simply – results were never better, but the situation was never so bad.”
But, nevertheless, he is willing to continue. Winning two European, World nad Olympic gold in three consecutive years doesn’t mean Prlainovic is tired.
“I still have enough motive to push on. The best years are ahead of us. The first time after practice when I feel that I’m not angry enough because someone was better than me, it will mean that it’s time for me to step back. And when that day comes, I believe that there will be some younger guy to replace me.”