Emma Villas Siena reached the ultimate goal of any team in the Italian Serie A2 in 2018. They hoisted the trophy and secured promotion to the top flight of Italian professional volleyball. Their work in the transfer market has shown they are not happy to just be participating in the Italian SuperLega, but have lofty goals of success. Just last week they signed Fernando Hernandez, a Cuban opposite who was one of the SuperLega’s most prolific scorers during his previous stint in Italy from 2015-2017.
The next addition to the lineup comes in the form of Iranian setter, Saeid Marouf. The most famous player in Iran will bring his dynamic hands to Italy for the first time. Marouf, 32, has had plenty of success with the Iranian National Team. He led them to their first Olympic Games in 2016 where they took 5th. Iran also won a bronze medal at the 2017 FIVB Grand Champions Cup with him running the floor. Marouf also was the MVP of the 2013 Asian Championships in which Iran were the champions.
While Marouf has helped Iran reach the top tier of international volleyball competitions, this has not always translated to huge successes with his club teams. He has won 3 championships in 12 seasons in the Iranian Volleyball Super League. These came in 2005 with Sanem Tehran, 2012 with Kalleh Mazandaran, and in 2014 with Matin Varamin. He was showing the world he had exceptional hands and a great mind for running an offense in the summers at the World League, Grand Champions Cup, and the World Championships. During the professional seasons he was still in Iran and not showcasing his talents in the best leagues in the world.
In 2014 he received a chance to ply his trade in Europe. Matt Anderson took a break from professional volleyball in the fall of 2014. This opened the door for Zenit Kazan to bring in another foreign player. The Russian Super League only allows 2 foreign players for domestic matches. They tried to lure Micah Christenson to Kazan, but he was keen on finishing his final season at the University of Southern California. At that point Marouf became the target. He signed with Zenit Kazan on December 27, 2014 and suited up in his first match on January 25, 2015.
While Marouf left Russia with Russian Super League and CEV Champions League titles, it was not the most seamless of transitions to Europe. His success in Iran comes from running a very fast offense. Marouf can deliver a ball to either pin quickly, and his timing with his hitters is impeccable. Kazan won matches by overpowering opponents on the outside with a high-ball offense. They had capable middles, but Wilfredo Leon and Maxim Mikhailov displayed pure power on the outside. Their size, vertical leap, and technical hitting ability allowed for them to force attacks over, around, or through most blocks. In the most important matches of the season, Marouf found himself being replaced by Igor Kobzar or not starting the match at all.
Marouf’s arrival in Siena does not automatically guarantee success for the SuperLega newcomers. It does give them an experienced set of hands with a very high volleyball IQ. Marouf and the coach, Juan Manuel Cichello, have a history working together with the Iranian National Team, so there is already an established trust between the setter and coach. It should also spark a great deal of excitement with the fan base. If they can continue to land such players they should be making a serious run at the playoffs in their first season in Italy’s top league.