EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, PART ONE: The mastermind is back on the Croatian bench. In Part one, he tells ehf-euro.com about the path from Skopje to Zagreb, and what has changed during his absence.
Lino Cervar is the most successful coach in the history of Croatian handball. The 66-year-old steered the Croatians to their first and so far only World Championship title in 2003, and the Olympic gold medal in 2004. His era on the national team bench ended in 2010 after he collected a significant amount of silverware.
Cervar went to Skopje, where he started as coach of Metalurg, became a Macedonian citizen and took over the Macedonian national team from 2016. Now Cervar is back with Croatia. In March 2017, just 10 months before the start of the EHF EURO on home ground, he was announced as successor of Zeljko Babic as Croatia national team coach.
Right before the draw of the preliminary round groups on Friday 23 June, Cervar shares stories of his past, future, hopes and dreams in this exclusive interview, which is published in two parts. Part one is about his decision to return to Croatia, while part two will focus on his expectations for the EHF EURO 2018.
ehf-euro.com: How does it feel to be back home?
Lino Cervar: I can describe the feeling as the one I had while leading Croatia 157 times. The national team is a family to me. It is like living in a holy family where living is joy, while being away feels nostalgic and coming back is a holiday. It is nice everywhere, but it is the best at home with your children and grandchildren.
ehf-euro.com: You were settled in FYR Macedonia for years, with two jobs in Skopje and for the national team. What were the reasons you chose to leave and return to your most successful job?
Lino Cervar: I could not say no to the Croatian Handball Federation – not again, not for a second time – as I still have to thank all players and assistants for the big successes, especially the gold medals at the World Championship and Olympic Games. I have read somewhere that you are young as long as you are accepting new challenges. I love challenges. One well-known Croatian film director once said: “It is necessary to leave small traces of your existence, to leave a small stone by the road.” Since I’m doing a job I love, it is boosting me through passion, dedication and great love for this sport to which I gave 40 years of hard work. I would like to complete my career with the national team in my Croatia.
ehf-euro.com: How often were you asked before you said yes to Croatia?
Lino Cervar: Indeed, they wanted me to come back. It was not easy because in the meantime I had been working in Macedonia for seven years as Metalurg coach, and I was part of their national team. It was hard to say goodbye to Macedonia because I always give 100%. I am very emotional, I had trouble falling asleep in that period and was afraid to take a decision because I have two nationalities, two countries in my heart. But only one is the right one. I know where my home is. I just came back home.
ehf-euro.com: How were the reactions in FYR Macedonia when you announced your decisions?
Lino Cervar: It wasn’t easy for them either. Some of them blamed me for that decision but the majority of Macedonians and handball fans understood me. They didn’t forget my work with young players. Metalurg is a Macedonian project that provides the national team with players in all age categories.
ehf-euro.com: What has changed in Croatian handball and the national team since you left for FYR Macedonia in 2010?
Lino Cervar: (laughs) Well, one change is that we haven’t been in any final since 2010. I have to say that since I left, the team had good results and won medals. I have to congratulate my predecessors, my former players and assistant coaches, Slavko Goluza and Zeljko Babic. What I must especially emphasise is the positive and continuous culture around the national team. This is very important because playing for the national team is above all club successes, because you’re privileged to promote your country and all its citizens.
ehf-euro.com: You are famous for being a perfectionist – what are the things you pay most attention to? Defence? Attack? Attitude?
Lino Cervar: The selection of players is most important and after that comes the team. Time is not our ally at the moment. Because of that we have to be aware of our weaknesses. If we are aware of that many possibilities are open for us. First and foremost, we as a team need to enjoy discipline, fighting spirit, behaviour and mutual relationships plus enthusiasm, modesty, humbleness and responsibility. Of course, defence wins and attack loses the match. When we talk about two basic states of handball I think Scandinavians improved the game in transition, and we need to use more space in positional play.