Italy waterpolo captain Pietro Figlioli was in Malta to hold a three-day training camp with the young players of Sliema ASC. Figlioli told Valhmor Camilleri that his eyes are firmly set on leading the Settebello to the gold medal at next year’s Tokyo Olympics…
For the young Sliema players who had the chance to train with Pietro Figlioli it must have been an experience of a lifetime.
Figlioli spent three days training young waterpolo players from the U-9 to the U-16s categories and he was impressed with the work being carried out at Sliema ASC.
“When John Soler asked me if I could come to Malta for a short training camp with the club’s kids, I immediately accepted,” the 36-year-old said.
“I was really impressed with the level of waterpolo of these young players. Actually, I was surprised with the work carried out by coach Dejan. To see the kids doing particular waterpolo drills was very positive and it was easy for me to give a helping hand.
“I jumped in the pool with the young players and tried to give them little tips to improve their technique but honestly I didn’t want to give them too much as I think what Dejan is transmitting to the players is more than enough.”
Figlioli has quite a unique story in waterpolo. Born in Brazil and son of an Olympic swimmer, his love for the water was quite natural.
At the start of his career he played waterpolo in Australia where he represented them in two Olympics, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, but then a move to Italian side Pro Recco completely changed his career for the better.
“My first professional club was in Barcelona and from there I went for my first Olympics with Australia,” he said.
“There I met with some of my Spanish team-mates and at the time Jesus was the coach of a club in Italy and he asked me if I wanted to go and play with his team. So, I started playing in Italy and worked my way up to a move to Pro Recco.
“Having my grand parents who were Italians, I thought of getting an Italian passport to be able to play in Italy.
“Then I had the chance of changing nationality as in Australia the problem is they go to a cycle and since there is not a lot funding, some players stop playing because they have to work and have family so there is not much continuity for players.
“Personally, I invest a lot of time to get to a certain level and then to go back again is frustrating so when the chance came to play for the Italian national team and become a professional athlete I didn’t think twice.
“So, in 2010 I started to play for the Italian national team.”
With the Settebello, Figlioli experienced his ‘most precious moment’ of his career when he played in an Olympic final in London 2012, losing to Croatia 8-6.
“For me, the most precious moment was to play in an Olympic final, ok I lost the final and we got the silver medal, but just to play an Olympic final is an unbelievable feeling.
“A lot of people dream of playing in an Olympics but to go there and play for a gold medal is very difficult to describe it.”
With Italy, Figlioli has so far won a silver and a bronze medal at the Olympics, achieved in Rio 2016, but he makes no secret of his determination to finally claim gold in Tokyo next year.
“The Settebello team doesn’t go to an Olympics just to participate… we only go to win every match and next year will be no different. It’s a mindset that you don’t build the day before the Games start but you start nurturing it the day after the last Olympics.
“Since Rio 2016, the day after the Games I started thinking already on the Tokyo Olympics and that I had four more years to get better. Winning the gold medal has always been my dream. Ok we won the world championships in 2019 but our big goal is to get that gold medal back to Italy.”
At Pro Recco, Figlioli was a close friend of the legendary Tibor Benedek, who played for Sliema ASC but who passed away earlier this year.
Figlioli said that Benedek was a unique talent and he had no doubt that his professionalism and work ethic were the biggest legacy he had left behind.
“Tibor and I were very close friends,” he said.
“When I played against Tibor I always wanted to mark him because I always wanted to confront myself with the best.
“He had an incredible mindset. At 40 years old, he was still putting 110 per cent in training, more than everyone else, but he did that because he knew that he needed to do that. He gave his whole heart to the teams he played for.
“For me his biggest legacy are his work ethic and humbleness. He was a clear example that with consistency, hard work and repetition you can achieve success and he did that.
“Tibor won three Olympic gold medals, something very few people did, as well as was a European champion, world champion and Champions League winner. No doubt, Tibor has left a big hole in many people’s lives.”
Message to young players
Towards, the end of the interview, I asked Figlioli what message he would like to send to young Maltese waterpolo players, and his message was quite clear.
“I started waterpolo at 15 years, and I remember that I could not do normal things like other kids, such as holding the ball, and it was tough for me,” Figlioli said.
“But you have to deal with difficult things in the same way you do in life. You need to be disciplined and make sacrifices if you want to succeed. It’s not easy to wake up in the morning and go to training while your friends are doing other stuff. But all that will feel worth it every time you score a goal and you win a match.
“My message to the kids is that they need to train every day, repeat all exercises all the time to be able to get better. I am 36 years old and I’m still doing the same things so there no other sequence.
“If they do that then they have a chance to enjoy the same success I enjoyed in my career.”