7m - Rastko Stojkovic: “I’m more than a man who just throws a leather ball into a wooden frame“

Rastko Stojkovic

Many handball aces began their playing careers in the SEHA - Gazprom League, some played their best matches right under SEHA’s spotlights, but only a few of them left a mark like a Belgrade child, Rastko Stojkovic.

The handball scene was delighted with the news that the former Meshkov Brest’s player was returning to the court and that he would wear Vojvodina’s jersey and thus give a dose of experience to the young Serbian team in the Quarter finals. 38-year-old justified the role of a great line player and a teammate, and we simply could not miss a chance to ask him a few questions.

We assure you that you will enjoy this 7m interview edition, mostly because of his open-mindedness and talkativeness, which he, among other interesting things about his career and life, mentioned in the next few lines.

Superman's return to the SEHA – Gazprom League - the statement repeated so many times since you decided to return from your ''retirement'' and thus strengthen Serbian champion Vojvodina. How did it feel to put on a jersey again and play such an important match?
It was very nice. I don't know how to express all those mixed-up emotions I was feeling. Also, the fear of whether I can physically play on that level again, what it would look like... However, it was better than I expected it to be. A few days before the match, I read an article on SEHA's official website where I was described by such wonderful words that one simply cannot ignore. Regardless of the pride I was feeling in that given moment, it made things a bit more complicated. In the end, I am very pleased with the end result of the match, the atmosphere and everything that happened to me again.

You can boast with a long professional career. You've been a part of many respectable clubs, among others, you have worn Meshkov Brest's jersey from 2014 to 2018. Describe to us how was it in Brest, playing in SEHA – Gazprom League?
I have many wonderful memories from Brest, wonderful memories from those four and a half years I've been there. Without a doubt, same goes for great successes I have achieved both on individual and team level in SEHA – Gazprom League. Final 4 tournaments, great organisation, a really nice league where players can compete against great players and great teams. I am a huge fan of the SEHA League and the quality it provides.

Serbia, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Israel – that's the list of countries where you have had the opportunity to learn and shape yourself as a professional handball player. Where would you play again and which country would you rather leave to others?
I certainly made the biggest progress as a player in Germany, but the lifestyle in that country was definitely not for me. I won't say 'never', because I said it many times and often was wrong, but I would skip Germany this time. As for Poland, Belarus and Israel, I have very fond memories from all of them. I had a really nice time in Poland, achieved great individual and sports successes in Brest and had a wonderful life in Israel, by the sea bathed in the sun. So, yes, I'd go back. I stayed in really good terms with all the clubs and simply can't put one city or country in front of another.  

Your last international experience was playing for Maccabi Rishon LeZion, in Israel. What is the main difference between these two cultures, their sports philosophy?
Handball in Israel is not so different from the European one, mainly because of the influence of players and coaches from the Balkans. Aside from the fact that they are genetically slightly smaller people so their focus is more on speed, running and scoring as many goals as possible, there is no significant difference in tactics or technique. They are investing a lot and working hard to follow Europe in this aspect, because they look up to our handball standard. The coaches they brought in, the Balkan ones, Scandinavian Per Carlen, are just an additional proof of that effort. I think that at some point, they've reached the level of certain European leagues and that makes me happy.

You are a member of Serbian silver generation from Belgrade in 2012. How did it feel to play the European Championship finals in the packed Stark Arena?
I mean, there's no words to say about the Arena, especially in those semi-finals and finals... It's definitely the highlight of my career, something I will remember for the rest of my life. It's great to play that kind of matches in any country, and when you experience it in your city, in front of your fans, that's really an extra icing on the cake. Especially that support in the Arena, that atmosphere - priceless! That is the pinnacle of my career, the greatest success and happiness.  

About your career and the track you left behind speaks best the fact you entered so-called 'Club 500' in the most elite club competition, EHF Champions League. By scoring more than 500 goals in the CL, you are, side by side, with legends like Kiril Lazarov, Domagoj Duvnjak, your former teammates Momir Ilic and Marko Vujin...
I never imagined that I would achieve things I've achieved in my career. Never. So, of course, I am more than satisfied with that individual success. Who would have thought that one Rastko, as a 'young, non-talented boy', Rastko who was repeatedly kicked out from his clubs until he was 19 years old, would achieve these successes. I was hoping to achieve them. I believed in myself, I maybe, at some point, even dreamed about it, but it was hard to believe those dreams would come true. Especially those 500 goals in Champions League, and from the position of a line player – not sure if it's a product of great faith, work, effort, desire, belief there's no lost ball, lost situation, is it a matter of character or sports luck. I believe it was my head, one word - belief. It seems that anyone who believes – can.

Perfect line-up of players?
There are so many quality players, quality teams, taking into consideration their current form, the coach that leads them... I mean, let's take this guy – Sagosen, take Karacic, take Cindric – it's impossible to choose only one. I don't want to take it upon myself and say ''That one is the best one.'' Just watch, for example, a match between national teams of Croatia and Norway. You will realize that there are 14 best players. I wouldn't like to point out anyone because there are really a handful of great guys out there. It's ungrateful from my perspective.

Try to, for our readers and friends of SEHA League, point out three things that only a few know about you?
So many interviews, so many times in front of the cameras, it's hard for me to reveal something new. I am an open-minded person and openly interact with people. Nevertheless, the latest thing is that I recently became a father for a third time. Now I am happy father of three underage children. 

Is there anything you regret in your career? Maybe something you would have done differently?
There is, only one thing I could've accomplished, but I didn't – participating in Olympics 2012 in London. Of course, playing in Barcelona, winning World championship, but now I am talking about things that were concrete and doable. One can't do everything. World, European Championship, Champions League, I simply had to miss something. I missed the Olympics.

How do you spend your free time? What are your plans for the future, once you finally replace the handball world with a normal everyday life?
Like I said, there is a little baby, there is a lot of running around her. Thereon, I am trying to get a little more knowledge in economics as I studied and graduated it by working in one company. Of course, I do things that I love. I play handball, also, but to be honest, I don't have much free time left after work with training and a toddler at home. So, when I finish my career, I will certainly turn to business and economics, and will strive to prove that I am not only capable of throwing a leather ball into a wooden frame.

We wish Superman all the best in the future!