Tourcoing, France, May 13, 2016 – FIVB Volleyball World League and European champions France face their first test of the year against Iran in Tourcoing on Friday evening and for assistant coach Arnaud Josserand the chance to see what stage the team is at will be crucial having had just a few weeks with the squad ahead of the Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament.
The world No.10 will clash with Iran again on Sunday before travelling to Tokyo, Japan to fight for a first Olympic Games berth since Athens 2004.
“Inevitably, with staggered arrivals, we had to adapt our preparation,” Josserand explained to the French Volleyball Federation website. “We worked in the first two weeks in Montpellier. This was very interesting because alongside most of the players summoned by Laurent – Pierre Pujol, Jonas Aguenier, Antoine Brizard, Trevor Clevenot Horacio D'Almeida and Stephen Boyer – we could also see some new players such as Timothy Carle, Jean Patry and Luka Basic. We really did a great job on both weight training and volleyball. From May 5 Benjamin Toniutti, Antonin Rouzier, Julien Lyneel, Nicolas Maréchal, Kevin Tillie, Kevin Le Roux and Jenia Grebennikov all arrived, while Nicolas Le Goff arrived on Monday.”
With many of their top players still plying their trade in the domestic leagues, however, it has been a challenge for the coaching staff to judge what physical state the side is in.
“It's true that we found players in slightly different form states,” the 52-year-old revealed. “The goal is to put all the work in to be at about the same level of fitness, but also to bring the pressure relatively quickly, because time is short: the other teams qualified for the WOQT have been gearing up for some time.
“Many of our players have been in the finals of their respective championships in Italy, Poland, France, Germany and Turkey. That's fine, but it means we received everybody later. So it is a preparation on many levels and we are eager to find true automation and tweak the settings.
“The slogans is; work hard and recover.”
And there could well be a lot of recovery necessary as they take on one of the quickest-rising teams in volleyball at the moment in Iran. Despite a disappointing 2015 which saw them slump to seventh in the World League and eighth at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Cup, they are a dangerous side, a fact Josserand is well aware of.
“This is a very good team with a game that we like,” he said. “Lots of quick pipes and attacks that go very fast. They have great technical skill and are one of the best passers in the world, whose playing style is quite similar to that of Benjamin Toniutti. The coaching change [Argentinean Raul Lozano recently took the helm] at the end of last season has given them a boost after a somewhat average year. One feels a revival, it is a team which we will have to be wary of.”
However, as could be expected from the side that won many fans for their jovial attitude off the court, the players are happy to be back together.
“They are inevitably a little tired physically, but what's good is that, whatever their state of fatigue, they really take pleasure to meet and to play to win together. It's their trademark and hopefully that will not change, because that's what makes the strength of this group. They are always smiling when they are together.”