New man breathes in new spirit

Several seasons ago, volleyball coach Gian Paolo Montali was hired by Olympiakos when the club was in crisis. Montali introduced Italian playing systems and knowledge of the team’s game to put it back on top. A similar story can also be told of Greece’s national men’s water polo team. The recent appointment of Italian coach Sandro Campagna at its helm seems to be producing results. After ending a disappointing eighth at the Europeans, Greece captured fourth place at the recent World Championships in Barcelona, a performance that has earned the side wider respect as an emerging international power in the sport. Considering his extensive course with the national team, beginning with junior-level play in 1985, Costas Loudis, nowadays the senior team’s captain, is in a good position to compare past and present. In an interview with Kathimerini, Loudis noted that with Campagna as coach, Greece’s current national team could make unprecedented achievements. «As soon as Campagna arrived, he made requests and did things which were unheard of for us. He asked for a support team of physicians, dieticians, and so on, in order to assess the condition and needs of each player… Endurance tests were also conducted in the water so that he could confirm each individual’s level and then work on each case separately,» said Loudis, who noted that the Italian coach also has games of prospective opponents videotaped for pregame analysis. Despite crediting Campagna for his methodical approach to the game, Loudis said he believed the Italian coach’s greatest contribution to the Greek team has been to revive its spirit. «During his playing days, he won every title with the Italian national team. And as coach of Italy, the team was a steady medal contender. Subsequently, he knows both how a player and a coach must confront major competitions and crucial games,» Loudis said. «If we exempt the World Cup in 1997, where we finished second, and the Europeans in 1999, where we ended fourth, we’ve almost always made the quarterfinals without being able to win that crucial game for a semifinal berth. Campagna can offer that extra push needed for victory, and can help players prepare for vital games. He is calm, and therefore has a clear mind and thinks about what is needed. He transmits this to the players,» he added. Loudis, who noted that Campagna is emphatic about stress-free play and avoids building games up into do-or-die affairs, said the Italian’s faith in longer-term development helped steer Greece toward its eventual fourth place in Barcelona after a poor start. «We began badly and our psychology was at zero level. He managed, in a calm fashion, to get us back into shape. He would say that losing was not a problem as long as we played well and that there was time ahead to work for the Olympics, which is our objective,» said Loudis. Reflecting his determination to build a team with a future, Campagna has shown faith in younger players, especially Argyris Theodoropoulos and Christos Afroudakis. «They’re both great talents and play a significant role in the team,» said Loudis. «They will have bright futures and will be leading players at the Olympics.»