A moment with ... Renato VugrinecArticle
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INTERVIEW: ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain talks to the one of the most seasoned veterans of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Since his arrival to Metalurg Renato Vugrinec has been enjoying a second spring of his playing career.

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

A moment with ... Renato Vugrinec

Renato Vugrinec walks majestically into the restaurant area of the hotel in Skopje. He’s a brave man. It’s located in enemy Vardar territory, yet he is as cool as a cucumber. He sits, orders a coffee and then like turning on a tap, he talks.

“I’m 38 and a half”

He admits he wants to be younger; still he enjoys the limelight, the roar of the fans, and the joy of playing handball. With kids, life seems to pass more quickly, but he knows that without his family with him in handball life, then he doesn’t get what he needs for the soul.

He readily states that handball is getting tougher and tougher and is not so much fun, but in the same breath he says that he trains even harder now, even though some people believe you should rest more when you are older.

“I was lucky, I had no big injuries”

He plays handball more with the head now than with speed or strength. Time takes its toll on the body, but he can see the game in his mind’s eye and this compensates for any other deficiencies that are in his game. Lino Cervar’s coaching methods lend to his experience because he is such a mental coach.

“Sure he trains you hard and has different methods,” but Renato knows that the most important is that Lino believes in him. He was in the relative obscurity of Maribor before the call came from Metalurg and it was the Macedonian fans that made up his mind.

“No money can give you that feeling”

He loves the roar of the crowd, the feeling he gets when he scores a goal. He believes that the Skopje crowd doesn’t have the same “sporting culture” as say in Germany. It is a release for them to come to the games, a chance to let out the pressures of a week. Sport is also a measure of the country, not just the team.

And he can comment on that culture. The multi-linguistic Renato has played in all the major leagues.

“Vardar is most important”

As if to prove the point he talks about the derby game. “Expectation is high”. He laments the fact that a win, even against Barcelona, would pale into insignificance were they to lose against Vardar. As a pro sportsman, he can visualise the bigger picture. “This is Europe”, he claims, “and the goal is Last 16, however we get there”. The pressure though is huge. The first derby game was lost psychologically before they even stepped on the court.

“We were ten years in the line”

His eyes glisten and he has Goosebumps (just listen) as he relives the story of the glory years of Celje. “Unlike football”, he says, “You must serve your apprenticeship”. It is a magical telling of all the things that went into winning that title. From the Leon comeback, to beating the best Lemgo side ever, it is worth the retelling. “We were down”, he reminisces, but it made our group stronger.

“Celje was the club for me”

He loved his time at Celje and stayed there for many years, regardless of other offers. He corrects me, as to why none of the major clubs came calling, after the CL win of ’04, for the left-handed gold dust. He instructs that Magdeburg and Portland San Antonio were two huge clubs, at that time, and that they were battling for European supremacy. He has no regrets about the choices of clubs he made, even though it never led to further European glory.

“I want to stay in handball”

He has a vision of the way the game should be played. He didn’t share the vision with me, but he did admit that it was different to all other coaches. He doesn’t know whether he will coach or do something else, but he has a lot to offer handball. For me he has the style and the experience. A man with panache, intelligence and passion, such as he, would be a valuable asset to the game.

He has two more years to play, if everything works out, and we should enjoy every moment while we can.

Listen to the full audio interview between Renato and Tom here.

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator