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Varnier at 41

Matteo Varnier (left) celebrates with Paolo Nicolai after a 2009 World Tour win over Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera of Spain in Rome.

Twelve years ago, Matteo Varnier was lamenting his misfortune of not playing in the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games due to a shoulder surgery.

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Today, he is celebrating his 41st birthday as the first winner of the FIVB World Tour’s rookie of the year honour in 2005 and is at home with his parents and relatives reveling in this small northwestern Italian town close to Sanremo.

“I will celebrate with my parents and relatives for lunch,” said Varnier, who now has an Olympic silver medal to his coaching credit as he has overseen the on-court efforts since 2015 of Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai. “I will have dinner with my best friends.”

When asked about how different it is coaching players instead of being coached, Varnier said “everything is different! When I was a player, honestly, I never realized how many hours of work, how many sacrifices, how many meetings were behind a single training, a single exercise or a tactic for a match. Now I’m working really hard every day with my staff to find something that could help Daniele and Paolo to get better in a particular skill, in a particular moment of the match, etc.”

Varnier said “when the Italian federation offered him the job of coaching Lupo and Nicolai at the end of 2015, I knew everybody was expecting an Olympic medal from Daniele and Paolo, so I had a great possibility for my career, as big as the pressure I had. I had no doubt, I was immediately prepared for the assignment.”

At the end of his eight-season FIVB World Tour career, Varnier played 12 international events with Nicolai in 2009 and 2010 and his final FIVB World Tour tournament was in 2011 with Alex Ranghieri, who qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with Adrian Carambula.

“Playing with Paolo in that part of my career was remarkably simple because he was full of power and ambition to grow as a champion, so he was always dedicated to doing anything for me and our coach. Now as a player he is incredibly challenging, he always tries to push everybody working with him to do something new, to work more and more, he is always focused on his goals.”

As for Lupo, Varnier said he has “never seen in my life somebody with the same passion as Lupo. And his ability to read any kind of game where we have to use a ball, is amazing; he enjoys every single moment he has a ball in the hands, he’s unique.”

And Varnier added that “Paolo is the best player I’ve ever seen about his focusing, and his capacity to analyze every single programme, every single moment of the training or match, is something that I could attribute only to some scientist; he always knows what is happening, and why, and he’s always ready to find the best reasonable solution. This is what I love about them - Lupo’s instinct and Paolo's rationality. They are the perfect mix.”

As for the lost 2020 season due to the pandemic where Lupo and Nicolai placed third in both of their international events at a FIVB World Tour stop in Qatar and at the European championships in Latvia, Varnier said, “we had a lot of different kind of goals to achieve during this season, the achievement of these goals has given us the possibility to understand how we are working.”

With Lupo and Nicolai already qualified for the Tokyo Summer Games after securing their berth at the 2019 Olympic qualifying tournament in China, Varnier said his team “will start practicing on November 2 and work through Christmas. We will work hard on their physical condition and continue to polish their technical skills.”

As one of the most experienced teams on the FIVB circuit with 85 World Tour starts together with three gold medals, 22 podium placements, 25 final fours and 41 quarterfinal appearances, Varnier said Lupo and Nicolai “are in the best moment as team, I mean the respect for each other, but like we always say, we have to keep grow as a player like as a person, so we have a lot of things to work on.”

When asked about his withdrawal from the Beijing 2008 Summer Games, Varnier said “that wasn’t a good period of my life as you can imagine. Watching on the television my partner (Ricardo Lione) playing the Olympics while I was in my bed after just having my right shoulder operated on is an image that I will never delete from my mind; but after that short time I was really excited for a new step, a new part of my career, I couldn’t wait to start playing with Nicolai, and this idea helped me a lot to find motivation for going back to the court as soon as possible.

As for his best memories as a player, Varnier said “this is strange to explain, because the best memories are the worst at the same time. I’m talking about my Olympics qualification that came when I had my injury.  The best moment as a coach is when we were warming up before the Rio Olympic gold medal match with Daniele and Paolo. We were on an outside court with helicopters flying over the stadium, thousands of people cheering in the stadium; and I thought: we are going to play the match we dreamed about for a whole life!”

Twenty-six years ago, Varnier said he started playing “beach volleyball by training by myself. I started playing full-time professionally in 2004.  Dionisio Le Quaglie was my first coach and he made me work really hard, I wasn't used to work as a professional and it was hard at the beginning, but day by day I realized that was the right way to become a good player.”

Now Varnier is a good coach as he celebrates his birthday today with family and friends before returning to the sand training Lupo and Nicolai as the pair seeks another placement on an Olympic podium.

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