7m | Svetislav Verkic: ''Years won’t stop me from playing handball''

Svetislav Verkic

Old but gold. That is probably the best possible way to describe the most experienced member of Serbian champion Vojvodina Novi Sad – Svetislav Verkic. Interesting career path led him from Jugovic Kac to Portugal, Norway and Slovakia through Germany all the way back to Serbia and Vojvodina where he is now collecting trophies. European champion with the junior national team and EHF Challenge Cup winner from 2001 definitely has a lot to offer to a team full of younger players who, with him around, have a great role model in the locker room.
Vojvodina is currently on top of the standings in Serbian Championship. Battle for the ninth consecutive national title is something you guys are taking very seriously.
We are really motivated to fight for every domestic title. This is a ‘must’ in our philosophy simply because we are that way, ensuring the budget for next season. We opened the season with four wins, two of which coming from matches against direct rivals like Partizan and Metaloplastika. Focus is now on the upcoming matches and we are happy to be a part of SEHA – Gazprom League in which our younger players are gaining valuable international experience.
Verkic came back to Serbia back in the middle of 2017/2018 season. His plan, however wasn’t to stay for so long.
First, I signed a six-month contract, basically only until the end of the season. My desire was to go abroad after that and compete in some of the strongest leagues in Europe. However, once I realized how much the club is rising on every level, I decided to stay here with my family. My kids also settled here in the best possible way despite of finishing first two grades in Germany. I signed a four-year contract and I believe that was not a mistake.
Your career started in Jugovic Kac, alongside two-years older Arpad Sterbik. Were you, at the moment, aware of the fact you’re growing as a goalkeeper next to Sterbik who is set to become one of the best of all time?
I didn’t, but I knew he will be a great one. That became clear for me in our last season together, when we won the EHF Challenge Cup back in 2000/2001. Now I can, without any doubt, say he is one of the best goalkeepers to ever lace them up. His career was really epic. He is an incredible  athlete, but also a very good person, modest – just like 22 years ago in Kac when we were starting. It makes me extremely happy when I think of our time together and the fact I had a chance to learn from a ‘monster’.
Is that EHF Challenge Cup title from 2001 the biggest success of your career?
I managed to win a lot of trophies, but I didn’t really contribute a lot to that one. I was a part of the team, but mostly on the bench. I remember that the whole village of Kac was living with the team that season. The first Serbian title with Vojvodina in 2018 was an amazing achievement as well with three teams fighting for it all the way until the final round. We managed to defeat Partizan with Milosavljev between posts and Zeleznicar hit the post in their last attack against Metaloplastika in Sabac. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I also remember the European crown with the junior national team from Athens back in 2001. By that, as a member of Tatran Presov, I won four double crowns in Slovakia. It’s just that, every title has a different story.
You have experience of playing in Portugal, Norway, Slovakia, Germany...
My international career started in Portugal. Those three years in Madeira were really amazing with summer all the time. I had a four-year contract, but the financial crisis in Portugal forced me to leave. I was close to obtaining a Portuguese passport, national team head coach at that time Matts Olsson was following me closely. However, I had to leave. My next destination was Oppsal in Norway. From +30 to -25 degrees Celsius. That’s the life of a professional athlete. In Germany it was amazing. It is the best league in the world and I’d stay there for a hundred years.
It’s quite unusual for a player to have his national team debut at the age of 36.
I was also surprised. Each athlete dreams of representing his country. Ljubomir Obradovic became head coach right before the 2019 World Championship play-offs and matches against Portugal. He knew me which is one of the reasons I got a call. For many years, our national team coaches didn’t even put me among eight goalies on the 40 players list. I never got a chance until then and it is never too late. I participated on 2019 World Championship in Germany where my dream came true. It was short and sweet. Nice experience.
Despite of your age, you are still capable of delivering outings your younger teammates can look up to.
I live for and from handball. My daily routine starts around 5 or 6 in the morning. Right now, I feel much better than 10 years ago. Friends are often asking me how is that possible and I’m telling them that back in the day I was doing what others were telling me to do and now I’m doing what feels best to me and my body. I have a very good relation with coach Rojevic who gave me a lot of freedom after realising how professional I am. I am not obligated to attend morning sessions with the team, but I’m always doing something individually, at home or in the gym. I don’t run anymore like I used to before. Back when I played for Melsungen I used to run for at least 10 kilometers, apart from having two training sessions with the team. I had problems with my Achilles tendons after it for such a long time. Right now, my focus is on stretching and exercises which are keeping fresh and ready. Experience is something which is giving me the results now. The club is satisfied and I am as well. Honestly, I am not considering calling it a career just yet. Recently I talked to club director Darko Jevtic and he was mentioning a possible four-year contract. I know that means playing until I’m 45 but trust me – years won’t stop me from playing handball. I’ll stop once I realize the time has come for that.