After dedicating nearly a quarter of a century of his life to Volleyball, Nikola Grbic stands at a crossroads after having played with the Serbian national team the during Beijing Olympics.
Serbian setter Grbic looks back on past and forward to his future in Volleyball. For now, spending time with his family is more important to him.
“My son changed everything in the sense that now I cannot wait to finish my practices, my tournaments, my games, and to fly home and see him,” Grbic said just prior to the Olympic Games. “Even though I tell myself I am not the first father who is not seeing his son. But my son is one and a half years old and I will never have another opportunity to pass this time with him.”
At some point, though, the 35-year-old Grbic will address what he plans to do next after his glittering career in Volleyball – he still plays club Volleyball for Italian side Itas Diatec Trentino at the moment – and the idea of coaching is something he hasn’t ruled out in the long term. “I think I would be a good coach, maybe if I have an ambitious club, but for now I don’t think so,” says Grbic. “I know myself, I am a perfectionist. If one practice is not done well I would think about what went wrong, what I need to change. When I am a player, when I finish with practice I don’t think about it and I have a pizza or watch a movie with my wife.”
Beijing was his fourth Summer Games appearance. "When Andrea Zorzi interviewed me for Follow Me after the 2008 World League, I was thinking that the Beijing Games could have been my last international tournament. But I'm still thinking it over." Grbic’s run of Olympic Games has given him some special memories, the highlight being Yugoslavia’s gold-medal triumph in 2000 when they beat Russia 3-0 in the final after overcoming Italy in the semi-finals.
“Sydney most important? Absolutely,” says Grbic. “We were always there, semi-finals, finals, but we never won anything. We managed to beat every team on different occasions but we never did it in one tournament. The first step was to win against Italy – until that time we couldn’t beat them … that was the first time we won (3-0) and we reached the finals. After that, it was a dream come true.” This was the finest moment of Yugoslavia’s “golden” generation, although according to Grbic this group of players came together by accident: “Unlike Russia and Cuba there was never a systematic approach to developing generations of sportsmen with schools and coaches. It wasn’t as though the golden Serbian generation was planned in advance.”
The Olympic medals and numerous other titles Grbic collected during his career were the culmination of a life that was pretty much destined from the start to be dominated by Volleyball. Grbic’s father, Miloš, was the captain of the Yugoslavia national team that won the bronze medal at the 1975 European Championships in Belgrade. Sadly, Miloš Grbic passed away last week, on the night of September 16-17.
“Until (our) generation came that bronze medal was the best result the national team had ever had,” says Grbic. “My father was playing until 36-years-old and he was our first coach and he taught us very important things, especially about technique and it was very useful for us … I can see this now.”
The “us” Grbic refers to, of course, includes his older brother Vladimir, with whom he won Olympic gold and other medals during more than 10 years side by side in the national team. Both were pushed hard by their father. The younger Grbic remembers starting playing Volleyball “around 11 or 12 years old” and in the last two years of high school left the family home to play for club team VC Vojvodina in Novi Sad.
“A lot of journalists said I seemed very cold and I’m calculating all the time during a match and I really like to do that,” says Grbic. “I don’t like looking at the gym or the referee. Just thinking about what is best for my team at that specific moment. And if something happens in the game that maybe can put me out of my way, then it’s not good if the setter loses his head. A spiker can do that and I don’t give him the ball and maybe he can cool down, (but) if I lose my head I can compromise the game.”
It is this unshakeable discipline that won Grbic 315 caps for Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro and Serbia. Along with the Olympic medals, he also won silver at the 1998 FIVB World Championships and gold at the 2001 European Championships. It has also seen him progress from the second team of GIK Banat in his hometown of Zrenjnanin via VC Vojvodina and military service to Italian clubs Gabeca Galatron Montichiari, TNT Traco Catania, Gabeca Fad Montichiari, TNT Alpitour Cuneo, Sisley Treviso, Asystel Milano, Copra Piacenza and currently Itas Diatec Trentino, where he won the Italian “scudetto” last season for the first time.
There is little room for regret after a career such as the one outlined above. Grbic could bow out at the absolute pinnacle of his sport, as captain of his national team, with three of the last handful of international games including an Olympic quarter-final, an FIVB World League gold-medal match and, memorably, the home game in front 9,100 fans at Pionir Hall in Belgrade when Serbia clinched a place in the World League Final Round against France.
It would be a fantastic way to say goodbye for someone whom playing for their country meant so much: “My father gave us that feeling of patriotism and love for the national team and love for my country,” says Grbic.
Who knows? This devotion to his country may see Grbic return one day to coach the national team. That is, of course, after devoting time to his family. And if Grbic is anything like his dear father, he’ll also soon be deciding on the best position for his son on the Volleyball court.