6’8″ (202cm) Italian volleyball superstar Ivan Zaytsev in March said that he was willing to stay with his side Sir Safety Perugia in Italy, but only if they allow him to play opposite. Perugia has called his bluff, and has announced that he will leave the club at the conclusion of this season in search of the opportunity to return to his favored position.
“Although for my team I have gladly adapted to outside hitter, I miss the role of opposite, and this will affect my choices,” the 29-year old Zaytsev said. “The deal was that I would play at outside hitter for 2 years, then I would have the chance to return to my role as opposite, knowing that both (Serbian opposite Aleksandar) Atanasijevic and I would be out of contract. Instead, they renewed with him, as he had an excellent performance, while I’ve never been called to talk. Perugia made the choice, not me.”
This sets up one of the wildest free-agent off-seasons in recent memory in men’s volleyeball; Cuban star outside hitter Wilfredo Leon chose not to renew his contract with Russian side Zenit Kazan, leading the Perugia president to say earlier this month that he would love to have both Zaytsev and Leon, two of the world’s most popular players, on his roster at the same time.
Zaytsev’s departure has opened up a spot for an outside hitter, with many signs pointing to Leon being his replacement. While Zaytsev was born in Italy, his father was an Olympic champion volleyball player in the USSR, and his mother was a European Championship medalist swimmer for the USSR. With the departure of Leon, Zenit Kazan will have the money to spend to bring in a player like Zaytsev, and will have to make a splashy move to remain among the world’s elites. Zaytsev played in Russia from 2014-2016, though most of his professional career has been in Italy.
Kazan at present, however, has the defending MVP of both the European Championship and the Champions League, Maxim Mikhaylov, at opposite, and so there’s not a big need for them at that position either.
Perugia are currently tied 1-1 with Civitanova in the Serie A finals. Zaytsev had 11 and 8 points, respectively, in the two matches, including 4 total aces. Perugia’s opposite, Atanasijevic, has 9 aces in the two matches.