I am on the record as saying that the European Champions League Final Four is the best event on the volleyball calendar. I am also on record as saying that my career goal is to participant in the Champions League Final Four. Having achieved my goal, I can confirm to you that my belief is correct. And having achieved my goal, and confirmed my belief, there is no conceivable way that I can write about the event with any kind of objectivity. Plus I hardly saw any of it. However, I do have two observations that might be worth sharing.
The best organised and structured team I have ever seen was the Trentino Volley team from about 2010 to 2012 with Raphael, Kaziyski and Juantorena. They were so perfectly structured that you could predict what they would do at any time and their block / defence structure seemed suffocate their opponents. I once made that comment to a colleague who worked in Italy and saw them play a lot. He replied, “You’re observations are correct, but if you watch them a lot you will be surprised to find that as good as they are, they actually win a lot of their matches because Juantorena gets a service series at a key moment.” In other words, as good as they were as a team, their team play was not enough. And Juantorena was so good that even in a champion team he stood out and was decisive. Which brings me to Wilfredo Leon. The Zenit Kazan team has arguably the world’s best setter, the world’s best opposite and one of the world’s best outside hitters, plus the starting outside hitters from the last European Champion team sitting on the bench**. But Leon is another level completely. At the biggest event in Europe, among probably ten of the best twenty players in the world he was the dominant player and difference maker. Choosing him as MVP was probably the most obvious award in volleyball history.
The second observation is about volleyball itself. In a setting like the one in the photo, volleyball is the most spectacular sport in the world. And frankly, it is not even close.
** Respectively… Marouf, Mikhaylov, Anderson, Sivozhelez, Spiridonov. I said arguably.