One crisis follows the next (

Marek Sotola (left) has to step into Berlin’s diagonal position in Benjamin Patch’s big footsteps.

Photo: imago/Kessler-Sportfotografie

Life destroys even the best plans. Experienced managers of professional sports clubs know that. Injuries here, a crisis of form there, and everything has to be rethought. Kaweh Niroomand, managing director of the German volleyball champions Berlin Volleys, is one of the most experienced club officials. Nevertheless, he had believed that he would be able to enjoy a little more vacation in the summer of 2022, to be able to push a calmer ball. “Like many people and companies, we had struggled. Luckily we received Corona aid from the federal government and the Senate, without it it would have been very difficult,” Niroomand recalled two difficult years these days. Volleys have weathered the pandemic with lockdowns and attendance restrictions in place, with most players on long-term contracts. There was hardly any room for improvement. But then, of course, everything turned out differently.

The corona crisis is now being replaced by the energy crisis, which makes state support appear necessary for the coming season. “The cost increases are in the six-digit range for us,” Niroomand reported on Tuesday with the hope that the BR Volleys will be taken into account in the Senate’s relief package. In addition to the financial problems, he also had to put together a new team, because after the sixth championship in a row, seven top performers suddenly left the club.

Two departures hurt the club and fans in particular: Captain Sergej Grankin, by far the best setter in the Bundesliga, was drawn back to his home country of Russia. And jumping prodigy Benjamin Patch turned his back on volleyball completely. The American was not only sporty, but also a special splash of color and a crowd favorite on volleys. Like Grankin, he still had a contract, but both left the Max-Schmeling-Halle for personal reasons.

Six new players have now been brought to Berlin, with Spaniard Ángel Trinidad set to play for Grankin. He last served two years in the strong Polish Plus League. Nobody believes that he can replace the 2012 Russian Olympic champion, although Trinidad was immediately appointed captain. Because the World Cup was still being held just a few weeks ago, so the team wasn’t even able to train together for a month, the rehearsed teamwork is still missing. “I think the mental will be decisive for us,” predicted Niroomand. “In terms of playing potential, I see us even better positioned than last year. But the killer instinct to develop the hierarchies and leaders for the big, important games will be the challenge for our coach.”

So for success coach Cédric Énard. The Frenchman also sees a lot of potential in the team: “After three weeks of preparation, I have a good feeling because the attitude is right. The boys are very ambitious. But we all know that we still need time.« That was evident in the friendlies against strong clubs from Belgium, Ukraine and Poland. Especially against the Polish teams from Lublin and Zawiercie, the BR Volleys had little chance of winning after two 0:3 defeats. “The results weren’t positive, but for me it was crucial that we met top teams to show the team: yes, we can keep up, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Europe’s top teams have always proved to be too strong in the Champions League, also because the Berliners lack the regular challenges nationally. Opponents are clearly beaten with the players in the second row, and it is unlikely to get any better this season. After all, the Volleyball Bundesliga consists of only nine teams. If you factor out the youngsters from VCO Berlin, who are basically out of competition, the Volleys only have seven permanent opponents, thanks to the pandemic.

After the clubs from Innsbruck, Eltmann, Rottenburg and Bühl, the United Volleys from Frankfurt am Main became the fifth team in three years to withdraw from the top German division in the summer. “That’s not nice. We are all in demand, but the VBL league in particular. We know that there are two or three ambitious people interested in promotion. But they don’t really dare yet. We have to take these clubs’ shyness away,” said Berlin’s manager Niroomand. »Lüneburg and Giesen have shown that locations can be successfully developed because the sport can inspire people. In the future, we have to get back to at least twelve, better still 14 teams.«

Niroomand can only explain why volleyball was hit so much harder than other professional leagues during the pandemic: »The budgets are lower than in handball, basketball or ice hockey. The poorest are always hit the hardest. In the cases of Innsbruck and Frankfurt, two entrepreneurs also thought that with a little money and a few good ideas they could get clubs in large locations up and running. But they didn’t make it through. And then Corona threw them back again.«

With only eight permanent teams left, the Supercup, which started at the start, could even be turned into a league cup, in which not only champions and cup winners, but all Bundesliga clubs come together for a tournament from this Friday. The Bounce House Cup in Giesen will be the first national benchmark and title to be won. “I expect that we will continue to develop point by point,” Berlin coach Énard initially indicated a cautious approach. »But of course it’s in our club DNA that we want to play for every title. Even if we’re not actually ready for it so early in the season.«



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