Brazil national-team captain Bruno Rezende put it like this:
“People expect nothing but the best from us.”
If the year before the Olympics is one in which volleyball players want to build confidence for what could be one the most important tournament of their careers, no one did it better in 2019 than Brazil’s Bruno. The 33-year-old setter had a remarkable season for both club and country and will enter his fourth Olympics in a position to lead the South Americans, who appeared in the last four finals, to another successful campaign.
The son of the legendary head coach Bernardo Rezende, Bruno had a tremendous season with Italian club Cucine Lube Civitanova by winning the Italian League, arguably the most competitive national championship in the planet, the European Champions League and the Club World Championship, in which he took home the Most Valuable Player award.
In a Brazil jersey, one he’s been wearing since 2005, Bruno helped the team to win both the World Cup in Tokyo, the South American Championship and, most importantly, the Olympic qualifier in Bulgaria that secured the Brazilians a spot in Tokyo next summer.
“It was a very successful and important season for us,” he told VolleyballMag.com. “Several young players had the opportunity of join the team and get significant playing time and all of them responded well. Now they’re all real options for Renan (Dal Zotto, head coach) to pick for the Olympic roster.
“And being Brazil, there’s always pressure for results and we lived up to the expectations with our victory in the World Cup and the Olympic qualifier, which were our main priorities in 2019. All of that put us in a good spot in 2020.”
The major headline involving the Brazilian national team last year, however, was undoubtedly the debut of 31-year-old outside hitter Yoandy Leal. The Cuban-born player was already one of the most prominent names in international volleyball and, after a long process, was finally cleared to wear the Brazilian jersey in 2019.
He was a pivotal player in Brazil’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Bulgaria in the match that booked the team’s place at the Tokyo Olympics and also had a key role in the team’s victory at the World Cup. To Bruno, who also has Leal as a teammate at Lube Civitanova, the Cuban’s addition is a massive boost for the team.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about what he adds to the team, he’s a player who makes the difference anywhere in the world and the match in Bulgaria was a great example,” Bruno added. “At the beginning he needed some time to understand and to adjust to our training regimen, which is more intense than most, but he was very open and willing to help and everything fall into place really fast.
“He’s a great player and has adjusted very easily to our group of players, which was also very nice to see. It was important that we got to build this unity with him.”
Brazil won Olympic gold in 2016, but this 2020 team has more new players, so Bruno has had to embrace his role as a leader.
“It happens after every Olympics and some of the guys who used to share this responsibility with me left the team such as Sergio (Santos, libero), Lipe (Fonteles, outside hitter), Murilo (Endres, outside hitter) and William (Arjona, setter),” he explained. “But some guys like Lucas and Mauricio (Saatkamp and Souza, middle-blockers) and Wallace (Souza, opposite) stepped up and helped me in guiding the younger guys. But they are all really great people and nice to work with and came with the right mindset, so it was a very smooth process.”
For the first time in his career, though, Bruno will be the most experienced player in the Brazilian roster when the Olympics come. Part of the team since 2005, the setter has gone through a lot since them, including being accused of benefiting from nepotism in 2007 when his father, who coached the national team between 2001 and 2016, called him up to replace star setter Ricardo Garcia for the Pan-American Games.
Bruno was a reserve when Brazil took silver at the 2008 Olympics, when the South Americans lost to the US in the final, but was one of the team’s most important players at the 2012 and 2016 campaigns, which resulted in silver and gold medals, respectively.
He shared the court with one of the sport’s greatest generations, which included players as outside hitters Gilberto ‘Giba’ Godoy and Dante Amaral, middle-blocker Gustavo Endres, opposite André Nascimento and libero Sergio Santos.
“It’s hard to compare the teams, but if there’s one thing that remains the same is that we are always among the favorites and people expect nothing but the best from us,” he reflected. “So this is a responsibility we’re used to deal with. But the truth is that for the last year there have been six or seven teams that are all at a very similar level, so anything can happen.
“One thing this season taught was is that we can’t afford skipping training. We started the Nations League with very little training together and we couldn’t perform. Once we got more time together, we won the World Cup. So this is something we’ll have in mind for the Olympics.”