Volleyball is pretty bad at history. For whatever reason, volleyball hasn’t inspired people to write 700 page books about it. It hasn’t even inspired people to keep basic records, not even the world governing body. In fact, to much fanfare in 2000 the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) announced its players / teams / coaches of the 20th Century. At least I think they did. There is only a fleeting mention of it on the FIVB website, on a page that you literally cannot navigate to*. The obvious interpretation is that people (including the FIVB) don’t care about volleyball history in general and greats of the game in particular. The less obvious interpretation is that they are embarrassed for having chosen the 1990-98 Italian men’s team as the team of the century. While this team was without question an excellent team, to recognise it such a way is a travesty. Between 1990 and 1998, the Italian team won a lot of trophies and medalled in nearly every event they played. Between 1977 and 1983, the Soviet Union men’s team won EVERY SINGLE TOURNAMENT that is participated in. One Olympics, two World Championships, two World Cups and four European Championships. In fact they were never seriously threatened in any of those tournaments.
Perhaps the peak of that run was the 1982 World Championhips in Argentina. Through the tournament they lost only two sets and destroyed Brazil in the final, to the tune of 15-3, 15-4, 15-5**. The video below is a poor quality video from that final but it is just enough to see how much better the Soviet team was compared to the second best team in the world.
As a postscript to this, a coaching colleague once tried to tell me that this team would still be the best team in the world today. That is, if they climbed into a time machine in 1982 and climbed out today, they would beat the best team in the world. I told him, I had recently watched the video (this one) and was certain they wouldn’t even be able to beat his club team. If you watch this video and then quickly switched to http://www.laola1.tv and watched any Champions League match, I am certain you would come to the conclusion that the greatest team of all time would struggle to win a single point against any of those teams. I don’t say that to diminish them in any way. Volleyball has just changed…
* You either need to know the page, or it comes up in some google searches. For the record, the page is http://www.fivb.org/thegame/ChronologicalHighlights.htm. For 20th Century awards, scroll down to 2000.
** All the results are at this excellent web page. http://www.todor66.com/volleyball/World/Men_1982.html.