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Rutenka out and at a career crossroad

INTERVIEW: The Belarusian handball icon awards the EHF EURO 2016 with top marks despite leaving earlier due to injury

Photo: Uros Hocevar

Belarus’ leading star Siarhei Rutenka is out for the rest of the EHF EURO 2016 due to injury and will miss his team’s last game of the main round Group 1 against FYR Macedonia. Despite an abrupt end to his stellar shooting performance in Poland after he was injured in Belarus’ last game, the 34-year-old is leaving the host country with positive feelings; not only courtesy of his team's participation in the main round, but also thanks to a great organisation from the hosting nation. You played just 90 seconds against Poland. What happened?

Siarhei Rutenka: “Already in the beginning of the match against France I had a feeling that I stretched my Achilles tendon. I still tried to play, but it was too painful and I had to stop after the first half. We had three rest days and I tried to recuperate at the maximum in cooperation with our medical personnel. I felt very good however, in the last match I wanted to change direction and the pain was back all the way down from my knee.” So what is the diagnosis now?

Siarhei Rutenka: I underwent magnetic resonance [MRI] here in Krakow. I will send the CD to our specialists in Belarus and see how serious it is. I still hope it is not torn – many players here in the hotel who had this injury told me I would not be able to walk. I am optimistic that I will not need any surgery. But the tournament is over for me and I will go home as soon as possible to start with treatment. After leaving FC Barcelona last summer and your Qatari club in the autumn you are still without a club. It might be more difficult to find a new club now with the injury...

Siarhei Rutenka: When I left Qatar many people thought that I am injured or out of shape, but the problem was that I did not get the conditions that I was promised and I am not talking about money. I think I proved here at the EURO that I am in a really good form. This is hopefully just a minor injury and if any club should lose the interest just because of this then I should never go to such a club. I'd rather finish my career. Before the EHF EURO, rumours linked you with a future at Meshkov Brest...

Siarhei Rutenka: They showed interest and it would be interesting for me to stay in my home country, but I have to say that if I do not feel some club really wants me I do not want to join it. I have had offers from other clubs which have shown more serious interest, and it is interesting what I have learned recently. All my titles are a bit against me right now as many club managers think I would have been enormously expensive. Let's switch to your national team here in Poland. Was the whole preparation and play focused around you?

Siarhei Rutenka: Not at all. Already the preparation tournaments showed I played only 60 % of playing time. The coach tried to build in the young players and create a good mix. Perhaps it will take some time until the boys earn enough experience, but I think youngsters like [Viachaslau] Saldatsenka, [Andrei] Yurynok, [Uladzislau] Kulesh, [Aliaksei] Khadkievich and [Artsem] Karalek play really well. I am not getting younger and the coach is aware of it and I am glad we showed here we are really able to play like a team. Belarus will finish somewhere between 10th and 12th place. Will you call it a success or a disappointment?

Siarhei Rutenka: Difficult to judge, because our team was hit by many injuries and illnesses. We miss a wide bench and players like [Siarhei] Shylovich, who plays 60 minutes each game, must be dead tired. I still hope we will become a team which is not easy to beat. We were fighting these health problems and for our teammates I tried to play. Still I think it was a success. You will miss the last game against FYR Macedonia and against your former teammate from Barcelona Kiril Lazarov. Were you looking forward to it?

Siarhei Rutenka: Not really. To be honest after so many years in international handball and so many clubs I meet former teammates in every other game. I always just focus on the players as opponents. What is the biggest surprise at this tournament for you? Any player or any team you liked in particular?

Siarhei Rutenka: Many people say that Norway are surprising, but I know how they played already before the tournament and I am not surprised at all. When it comes to players I really like how [Dmitry] Zhitnikov plays. This has been a great tournament for him and he is a very nice guy. I also closely followed Slovenia, who I played for in the past and who I always cheer for, but they had really a tough group.

But I have to say that the level of the organisation is a very positive surprise for me. Poland made another big step forward since the last EURO. And another great surprise for me was the interest of Polish people in handball. In Katowice we had around 7,000 people watching our matches and I was glad that we could stay in this tournament longer and enjoy such great fans. If you liked that so much, can you imagine playing here for some club?

Siarhei Rutenka: Everything is possible. My career had so many twists and turns that I never say never to anything. Things happened that I never even thought about.

Again, everything is possible. I would not be surprised if I would end up for example in a German club even though people are not very fond of me there. Once they would see I am fighting for their colours and giving everything on the court they would change their minds.

written by Vlado Brindzak / cg