‘If I take on something, I have to see it through to the end.’ Frank interview with Tomas Hlavaty

11 June 2022
The 35-year-old Slovak specialist at the decisive moment of the season became the head coach of Rostov-Don and led the team to victory in the Super League. Why did he stay when Per Johansson and all foreign players left the banks of the Don and Russia in general? And did he understand the Russian soul in four years of work in the country?
 
Tomas answered almost all the questions of Handballfast. Before starting the conversation, however, he warned that he would not talk about the future - only about what had already happened.
 
- Now the emotions from the insane tension of the last months and the cool victory have subsided?
 
- No, until now everything that we did, how we worked and how we won is before our eyes. It was an incredible feeling for the players, the coaching staff, the management, the fans, and they haven't gone anywhere yet.
 
 
- Why did you stay in Rostov after February 24?  The former head coach and all foreign players left the team.
 
- I talked with the general director Anton Revenko, had a meeting with Mr. Ivan Savvidi (the main sponsor of the Rostov club). They made it very clear that they wanted me to stay and we worked together to finish the season. I agreed, only asked for a few days off to go home and digest everything.
 
I felt that I couldn't just leave the team I had been with for four years. I wanted to finish what I started and achieve the goal to which we were going. The road turned out to be difficult, but we did it.
 
I did it for the girls, for myself, for all the club's employees, for the fans. After all, ‘Rostov-Don’ gave me a lot as a coach, and now it's time to repay this debt. The situation was difficult, but we came out of it with honor.
 
- Did the former head coach of Rostovites Per Johansson warn you that he would leave the team?
 
- I will say this: we talked a lot about everything that happened. The conversations were different - about how he acted. But I'm not going to judge. In any case, it only concerned Per and the club. When it became clear that Johansson was leaving, management offered me to continue working.
 
- Was it difficult to make a final decision?
 
- Very! Nobody in this situation knew the truth, the information was extremely contradictory. I do not want to say what is good and what is bad. I worked at ‘Rostov’ as a handball coach, not as a political analyst.
 
The family was scared: where will you return, because the fighting is going on very close! But I explained that nothing would threaten me: as I worked, I would work calmly. And returned. I have such a life philosophy - if I take on something, I have to see it through to the end.
 
During the few days that I spent at home, I felt that it was impossible to leave the team. I knew the potential of the players, I felt the energy they radiated. I just couldn't do otherwise, otherwise it wouldn't be me.
 
 
- For the second time, by chance, you headed Rostov-Don. But after the departure of Ambros Martin, it was only necessary to work for a few matches with the team, and now the situation is different and the responsibility is different.
 
- I'm not afraid of responsibility. Anyone who wants to achieve results should not be stopped by anything. I am aware of the saying that the team wins and the coach loses, and I agree with this. It just needs to be accepted. With these thoughts, I tried to do the maximum that was possible.
 
- Was there a feeling of despair when all those through whom the game went through left? Perhaps the thought arose: with whom did I stay?
 
- Just during those days that I stayed at home, there were a lot of thoughts. But the main one was that I knew and felt the potential of those who remained, their character, their thirst for victory. I'm sure when they read this interview, they will recognize themselves.
 
As for those who left, I didn't talk about them at all. In that situation, they decided to leave, well, that's all. It is a fact. It was better to make every effort to get the most out of our girls, to unite them, to make a team. We realized that if we work, stand up for each other, then we can achieve something.
 
- You turned out to be a great motivator and did what only a domestic coach seemed to be able to do with Russian players. It turns out that after four years in the country you understood the Russian soul?
 
- It is important for the coach to find the right words. But the motivation always comes from the players. For our girls, this desire spilled over the edge. My job was to feed that desire.
 
 
Of course, over the four years in Russia, I talked with different coaches in the club and the national team - with Evgeny Trefilov, Alexey Alekseev, Lyudmila Bodniyeva, Lev Voronin.
 
When a foreign specialist works in another country, he needs at least a little understanding of its mentality. Absolutely from all Russian coaches, I heard one word most often - discipline. It's close to me. We Slovaks also need discipline.
 
- How do Russian handball players differ from others?
 
Difficult question, but I'll try to answer. Sometimes you have to talk tough with Russians, but always honestly. They respect and accept it, even if they don't like it.
 
Well, when you really need to fight, fight on the pitch at decisive moments - here the Russians can give themselves entirely. I always say: in order to achieve something, you need to work to the maximum not only on the pitch, but also in training.
 
And the Russians have such a quality that they can take one step further, even when it seems that that have no strength at all.
 
- That is, if you approach them with an open mind, then they respond in the same way?
 
- Undoubtedly.
 
- Players from other countries are not like that?
 
- At the highest level, there are good handball players in almost all top teams. But they arrive at their results in a different way. With Russians, sometimes it’s better to be tougher, sometimes you even need to shout. Players from other countries simply will not understand this.
 
 
- It turns out that you became Russian for Russia, isn't it?
 
- Nice to hear this. I just realized one thing - you can’t come to Russia with your own way of life, say that you are the best, and work as always. It won't work that way here. It was necessary to understand the mentality.
 
You need to listen to people, listen to advice, and then try to adapt. This is probably true for any country, but especially for huge Russia with its achievements and culture.
 
- Yulia Managarova called you ‘our guy’.
 
- Haha, and she herself is such a positive person that she turns on everyone who is around. A real captain who always gives herself completely to the game.
 
 
- For four years in Rostov, have you seen such Anna Vyakhireva, who was in the final matches before?
 
She is a very specific player. I can say only kind and good words about each of my players, each one stands out with something of his own. But Vyakhireva is special. She can do everything on the pitch. And to this you still need to add her irrepressible desire to always win.
 
She is always ready to help the team and the coach. When the match starts, Anya drops everything and thinks only about the game. Her ability to tune in is phenomenal. And then she transfers her skill and calmness to the coaching staff and teammates.
 
- From these words, we can conclude that Anya is a super pro. And also Russian, that is, she draws internal reserves from nowhere.
 
- Exactly. But she also has an incredible handball intelligence, she always gives good advice. Playing next to her is just a thrill, training her is also. Everyone around is talking about her. And they speak enthusiastically. But I will note: Vyakhireva always puts the team in the first place.
 
She will score her ten goals, and then she will come to a press conference and say that without the team she would not have succeeded. This takes her skill to an even higher level.
 
- Is Anna Vyakhireva the best handball player in the world today?
 
- Everyone has their own evaluation criteria. But anyone needs a team, even the best handball player. And the best in the world alone can do nothing. Well, Vyakhireva's handball skills are just amazing. If you asked if I want Anya in my dream team - yes, one hundred percent.
 
 
- Experienced players are gathered in Rostov. How much did you have to intervene in the game plan? Or did your wards only need a pre-match setup?
 
- Of course, as a coach I tried to do my best. I analyzed the opponent, all the possible options that they could offer us, worked on everything that was possible in training.
 
But you can never predict what will happen on the pitch. I will say that there were moments in the matches when the girls and I came to the right decisions together. We won as a team, I want to emphasize this. Everyone did their job.
 
And I would like to thank everyone involved in this: masseur Sergey Yagelovich, doctor Nikolay Donich, physiotherapist Alexander Matich, second coach Tatyana Bereznyak, who did a great job for handball players as a second mother, as well as coach of the second team Alexander Burmistrov, who always helped,  drivers, administrators, management, club employees - in general, everyone. This is their victory too.
 
 
- You have come a long way as an assistant head coach, achieved a big victory as an acting head coach. Ready to be completely independent?
 
- Yes. I tried to get better step by step. My goal is to be a head coach. When an assistant does not want to be promoted, it means that something is wrong with him. Of course, I’m ready to work independently.
 
Photos: press service of the ‘Rostov-Don’ Group of Companies, vk.com/al.nevozvraschenetsvk.com/vmsportruvk.com/dmitry_skilkovvk.com/starostin_photo
 
Authors: Andrey Shitikhin / A. Shishkarev 
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