Dean Bauer, FINA Aquatics World Magazine Correspondent (CRO)

He is the kind of player that many experts believe is the future of Croatian water polo. Another sporting jewel from Dubrovnik, Loren Fatovic was only 19 years old but already a permanent member of Jug when they won the most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, in 2016. And he was one of the best players of that team, which was a huge compliment as he was able to shine among stars like Felipe Perrone, Luke Loncar, Marko Bijac, Xavi Garcia, Maro Jokovic, Andro Buslje, Paulo Obradovic... A year later, Loren was selected for the national team for the first time and reached the summit in his debut tournament, when Croatia clinched the world title in Budapest.

Loren Fatovic only recently turned 22, and with his club Jug CO Dubrovnik he has already won 14 trophies (Croatian Championships and Cups, regional Adriatic Leagues, Champions League, European Super Cup ...). For those who know water polo his surname will ring a bell, because one of the best players in the history of Jug Dubrovnik and Croatia was Elvis Fatovic, who is currently head coach of the Australian national team. Loren is Elvis’s son, and the kid has already managed to break even with his father in the number of club trophies he has won after only three or four years in the senior team. Even so, Loren does not think that he is equal to his father. Loren thinks he’s... better!

“I’m not joking now either”

Not just once when you faced the obvious question on who is the better player, your father or you, you answered without much thought: me! Is that a family joke, you’re provoking a father or... Simply, why do you think you’ve surpassed your father?

No, I was not joking and I’m not joking now either. I think that I have surpassed him because in sport the results are the only measures of success, and since I have won world championship gold while my father's best result was a European silver medal, it is a logical conclusion that I think I’m already in front of him.
(On the basis of medals won, Loren Fatovic is perfectly right. His father, Elvis, won ‘only’ a silver medal at the European Championships in Kranj 2003. Loren already has three medals with Croatia: gold from the 2017 FINA World Championships, bronze from the 2017 FINA World League 2017 and gold from the first edition of the LEN Europa Cup in 2018. One of Loren’s father’s best friends is Vjekoslav Kobescak, who has been head coach of Jug CO since March 2015 and is thus Loren’s coach. Kobescak, who played alongside Elvis in the Croatian national team, says: “Elvis and Loren are hard to compare. Loren is a fast and excellent swimmer, better than Elvis. But in attack Loren is a sniper.”)

Nonetheless, all credit goes to your father. Had he not been a water polo player perhaps you wouldn’t have been here either.

Definitely, my father has a great deal of credit because as a young kid I went to water polo matches quite often and watched dad and so I fell in love with the sport. Besides, when I was playing in the early years, my dad usually came to watch my matches. However, Dubrovnik as a town also equally deserves the credit because water polo is the No. 1 sport here, and most children try to practise this sport.

“With my dad I rarely talk about my matches”

That’s why the question is, if you had not been born and raised in Dubrovnik, would you have played water polo? Would you be in this sport?

I cannot say with certainty what it would be like to be born and raised somewhere else. But yeah, I honestly think there’s a better chance I would not have taken up water polo if I had been born and raised somewhere else. Simply because, as I said, in any city in the whole world, except in Dubrovnik, you will not face the fact that water polo is the first choice, the first love, the first sport. Even before football, basketball. It’s a city of water polo. The only city in the world where every resident is also a ‘coach’, a great expert on water polo. Not to mention the many ex-players, referees and so on. On the one hand, it is a privilege, a pleasure to play water polo in such a city, but on the other hand all of us are under enormous pressure almost all the time. But... I do not complain. I think it’s still a way better situation than to live and play somewhere else where most of the people don’t care.

However, as far as we know, with your father and when he was there, in Dubrovnik, you did not often talk about water polo. Why?

Generally, when I’m out of the pool, I do not talk much about water polo. With my dad I rarely talk about my matches, though we usually talk about water polo. Maybe about some game, some team, but not about me and my game.

If someone asked you to explain why water polo is more interesting to you, better than football or basketball, what would you say to him?

Honestly, I do not think that water polo is more interesting than football or basketball. The best proof is that water polo cannot be compared with basketball and football by numbers of fans, spectators, TV ratings... However, I hope this will change with some proposed change of water polo rules that is trying to attract the audience.

Which do you prefer, to play for the national team or for your club? Many athletes say it is the greatest pride to play under the flag of their country, but again it must be a special feeling to play for Jug, in front of your friends, fellow citizens, your neighbours...

Playing in the national team always gives some special adrenaline boost. Maybe one of the reasons for that is that the national team does not play that often, we do not play every week in the national team, so it carries a bigger glow. However, the club in which I play, Jug Dubrovnik, is an exception because most of the players lining up here week by week are guys who have been raised in this club. The relationship with the club is not just a professional one, that you are a contracted member of a team who earns his living here. This is more. It’s a similar bond to what you feel in the national team. It’s about affiliation.

“There is no room to think too much about jitters”

When is it harder for you to fall asleep: before the big finals or after a defeat in an important game?

After a defeat, for sure! Fortunately, I have slept very well because I have not had a lot of serious defeats (laughs).

Do you still have still jitters ahead of a very big, important match?

Well, there are always some jitters, but positive ones, as you approach the game. But as soon as the match starts, everything is left behind. Focus is all about the pool, the ball, the opponent, of course your game. There is no room to think too much about jitters. Sport is fast and so is a match, and you do not have much time to think. Whoever thinks a lot, loses quickly. I do not say that I haven’t approached each game and rival without any thoughts or wise mental preparations, but you do not have to overload yourself too much.

You are a world champion with the national team of Croatia 2017, but still the youngest in the team. Does that mean that you’re still in charge of carrying all the equipment...?

Unfortunately, yes. No matter that I have gold, I’m the youngest in the team and the rules are well known. Luckily, my team-mates are always there to help me if needed, so it’s all a lot easier.

This is a story about one Fatovic (Loren) in which we touched on another Fatovic (Elvis), but this Dubrovnik family gave even a third Fatovic to water polo...

Yes, my older brother Marino. He was born in 1994. During his junior career we played together at club level. Unlike me, who plays on the left side, Marino played on the right side. After his junior career and completing high school, Marino went to study in the USA, then he moved to Australia when our father became the head coach of the Australian national team. It was in January 2013. My brother Marino is still Down Under, he is employed there and playing in the Australian league.

“I hope this is just the start of my career”

Who has had the biggest impact on your career so far, whether a coach, a player or someone else?

As I hope this is just the start of my career, I wouldn’t name anyone who stood out in this regard. Maybe in a few years I can say something but not now.

Do you have a favourite goal you scored?

I do not have a personal favourite but I can recall some important moments, favourite goals of my team-mates. For example, the penalty shot of Felipe Perrone in the final match of the Champions League in Budapest in 2016 against Olympiacos Piraeus and the last goal of Sandro Sukno for Croatia against Hungary in the final of the FINA World Championships in Budapest. Goals for gold.

Do you like to assist more than score a goal?

If you win in the end, both are equally pleasing!

Croatia is very successful in water polo, equally on the national and club team levels. Particularly popular in Dubrovnik, there are plenty of fans, including women. How then do you interpret the fact that Croatia is not nearly as strong in women’s water polo or that there are very few women in that sport in Croatia, which is not the case in basketball, handball, volleyball?

Water polo as a sport generally in Croatia does not have such popularity as other sports. That’s the main reason. So I think a smaller number of women are even interested in water polo or playing water polo.

Is there a sporting idol for Loren Fatovic?

I have no idols but I can learn something from most of my team-mates.

What is your favourite sport outside water polo that you like to watch or maybe play?

I really like and follow all sports, but especially basketball and handball. Now, some of these sports I play... well, maybe basketball, but again... somehow I feel the best in the water.

Finally, in September 2018, at the FINA World Cup tournament in Berlin, Croatia and Australia played in the quarter-finals and Australia won surprisingly. It was a match in which your father outsmarted your side. Australia went on to play for the title – finished runner-up – while Croatia had to settle for fifth place...

Let’s just leave it at that. It was one match and, all right, they were better. But we’ve already met before a few times, and we always won those games, so...