Guide to SKOPJE

We put Nea Salamina back to the top of volleyball world

Interview with Zarko Ristoski, Selector of Macedonia National Volleyball Team

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Mr. Ristoski, what is it that people find so appealing in volleyball? It isn’t football, it isn’t basketball, there aren’t many fans and supporter clubs, so what is it that attracts young people to become volleyball players?

Volleyball is one of the most attractive sports to watch and it is in the centre of attention at major sports events round the world. The game is different from other sports because there is no physical contact between the players from opposite teams. Players must react quickly because they have very short contact with the ball, they can’t hold it but only hit it and decide what to do in a split second. These things make volleyball unique and attractive sport to watch and play. Young people are motivated to start playing this sport because they develop coordination, speedy reaction and equally activate the whole body.

You were appointed selector of the national team a while ago and the team managed to win several matches in a row defeating very serious opponents. What aspects of the game changed after you became their coach?

We had excellent results that everybody noticed and we were able to stir public interest which is the most important thing of all. We were first in the pre-qualifications tournament for the European Championship with three wins and maximum effect. In the qualifications round we were third in our pool but we showed that we had great progress in our play despite all the problems we had at that time. We had injured players who couldn’t play at matches and yet we debuted in the European League with four wins in a row. We had excellent working atmosphere at the training sessions which resulted in excellent play in the matches.

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You have been in Cyprus for many years. How did that happen?

In 2010 I played for Omonia from Cyprus for the first time and we had a great season then. But, after the season was over I got an injury and couldn’t continue my career as a professional volleyball player. That is why I declined the offer from Nea Salamina to play for their team in 2011, and in 2012 the same team asked me to be their coach which I gladly accepted. I worked for two seasons during which the club became champions of Cyprus in 2013 thus breaking a 10 –year –old “curse”. We were winners of the Super Cup in 2014 and we also won all the tournaments on the Cyprus Championship’s calendar in the last two years… Our three-year-long stay in Cyprus created many beautiful memories of that place, good results, friendships, new friends and an incredible life experience…    

I read somewhere that volleyball is a very important sport in Cyprus, especially in Nea Salamina. It was probably quite a challenge for you?

Being part of Nea Salamina family is a great honour and pleasure because this team dominated in Cyprus until 2004. Since that year until I started working as a coach they had not won a championship’s cup. The ten-year long struggle ended with my arrival in the team and we managed to restore its old champion’s glory.

Could you compare the most prominent characteristics of volleyball in Cyprus and Macedonia? Two different schools of volleyball, different approach and treatment…

Work conditions in Cyprus are at a much higher level than here. I am referring to providing basic conditions for work such as sports halls, equipment and organization.

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Could you describe the whole situation, how they decided to trust you with their team given the fact that you come from Macedonia? What kind of stereotypes did you encounter in the beginning? It was an inevitable situation to face the prejudice you had about them and the prejudice they had about you.

I started communicating with Nea Salamina about 10 years ago after I played for the team in several matches in European Cups. The first time I played against Nea Salamina was when I played for Rabotnicki Fersped and the second time was when I played for Dinamo. Bucharest. I won the matches on both occasions, There were several attempts to join the team as a player but they were not crowned with a contract, but, to mutual feelings of relief and pleasure, I became coach after I accepted their first offer. Cypriots are a very open and honest people and I must admit that during my long stay there I did not encounter any problems or pressure regarding the country I come from. On the contrary, they recpect and value a man’s qualities and hard work and they are always ready to help and lend a hand to anyone who needs it.

How did the players accept you, your neighbours and the city?

The co-operation with the players was at a very high professional level during training sessions. In our free time we used to hang out together in our free time and we always celebrated good results after a match. During my first year (2010) I was a member of Cyprus Omonia I met many people who are my friends to this very day despite the fact that we were “bitter enemies” in the past two years. Also, during the two years I spent in Nea Salamina, which functions as one big family, I met a lot of people that I am sure I will keep in touch with and remain good friends forever.

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What is Cyprus cuisine like? Is it similar to Macedonian cuisine?

Yes, I think both countries have similar cuisine which includes a lot of barbecue specialties. Cyprus cuisine is rich in sea food specialties unlike ours, but, in general, the food is very similar.

What kind of food did you enjoy the most? I can still remember (although I’ve tried it many times later) a moussaka, the best I’ve ever had in my life. It was in Vari near Athens. What is your favourite Cypriot dish?

The most favourite food for me and my family was grilled Halloumi goat cheese, which is actually the trademark of their cuisine. It can be found only in Cyprus and it has a very distinct taste. When it comes to meat, my favourite was pork souvlaki (small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer). I am not a big fan of seafood but I couldn’t resist a well prepared salmon. I have a sweet tooth and luckily Cyprus is rich with original cookies and cakes and my favourite is cheese cake with cherry topping. My wife makes it very often to my pleasure and to my son Luka’s great pleasure.

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If you compare it to Macedonian cuisine what is it they make better there and what is unmatched in our cuisine?

I would definitely say Tetovo baked beans, and homemade lutenica and ayvar are indispensable. We would love to smell grilled Halloumi cheese again, though.

You stated that you are leaving Nea Salamina. Is there any chance that you will continue your career in another club in the south or do you have other plans?

My whole energy is now focused on the matches awaiting our best national team in the European League and to be honest i don’t have any time to think about my next destination.

I would very gladly accept to work with a team that has high ambitions. Whether it will be in Cuprus, Greece or some other country, we will have to wait and see until the beginning of the next season.

Darko Cekerovski