Laurent, when the postponement of the Olympic Games to 2021 was announced, did you really think that you could not live them, given that your contract with the French Federation was coming to an end and that you were already engaged with the Japanese club Osaka Panasonic Panthers?
Laurent Tillie: Yes, there was a time when I gave up on it, especially since I thought the Games were going to be postponed for two years. Such a delay seemed more logical to me for the reorganization of the Games. But when they were only one year behind, I told myself that this could be a continuation of what we are doing. At that time, I told myself that I had to do my best to be there. I then thought I would have to fight with each other except that in fact, there was a very rapid agreement with the French Federation which immediately supported me in this project to continue until 2021. And with the Japanese club , I found myself an employee of Panasonic who happened to be one of the “golden sponsors” of the IOC and the Olympic Games. They too quickly accepted this idea and accompanied me in this idea of coaching the French team at the 2021 Olympic Games. But I must admit that until everything was finally signed, I was not very proud (smile).
At one point, you planned to take a sabbatical year after the Olympic Games 2020 and now, you end up with a busy year between your new club and the Blues …
Yes, that's it, life is full of the unexpected (laughs). At one point, indeed, I felt the need to distance myself from the French team. For me, 2024 and the Olympic Games in Paris were too far away so I was going to cut a year or even two. Then the Japanese club contacted me with its offer, which made me change my rifle. The plan then was to experience the Games in Tokyo in the summer of 2020 and continue behind in Osaka. Except that instead, I would do the opposite by starting with my club and continuing with the Blues.
"In volleyball, it was Japan that invented the modern game with the cuff, the fast game, combinations, the floating ball … "
How will you organize yourself to lead the two together?
I'm not worried. In volleyball, perhaps 90% of national coaches also play in clubs. I was one of the few who chose to coach only the French team because I did not want a conflict of interest and wanted to recharge my batteries during certain periods. After the Rio 2016 Olympics, I had coached the Cannes women's team but it had been hard to follow. With my Japanese club, everything is clear and I will be seconded to the France team next year to prepare for the Games. And in the meantime, I'm going to rely more on my staff to monitor each other's performance. They will keep me informed and I will continue to follow them on video.
Between the coronavirus crisis and your departure to Japan, you will end up with a very long period without seeing your internationals…
Yes. There is no competition until May of next year and this summer, given the context and since it has been so long since the players had had a real vacation, we decided to let them rest. Especially that it is very important that they are available as soon as possible for their clubs, because they are the ones who are suffering and will suffer the most from this crisis. Being able to recover their internationals from the start of their preparation will allow them to relieve them a little. So as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to find myself for a year without having led a training session for the French team. It's funny.
On a personal level, what do you expect in your new Osaka club?
In 2014, I already had the opportunity, during a trip with my wife, to immerse myself more in Japanese culture and the local championship, both male and female. Now I expect a lot, a lot of work (laughs). It’s the beauty of this challenge that goes beyond the simple sporting aspect. There are also cultural, environmental, traditional aspects… All of this seems important to me. In volleyball, it was Japan that invented the modern game with the cuff, the fast game, combinations, the floating ball … It is a sport that is very developed in schools, universities. Volleyball is very technical. It just lacks the physical dimension, but what interests me is to see their training capacity, their search for the perfect gesture.
“The Japanese mentality will change me from the Yavbou team. I will try to adapt "
This will make you a big gap with the madness of Team Yavbou (the nickname of the French team). Are the Japanese not likely to be too disciplined for you?
(Laughs) Maybe. But that's also why it will be interesting to experience. To give you an example, I think I will have between 12 and 14 staff members, with a gymnasium for myself, a weight room … It's enormous and extraordinary as working conditions. Certainly the Japanese mentality will change me from the Yavbou team. I will try to adapt. What scares me the most is the thoroughness of the Japanese in programming. We cannot deviate from the rules, everything is very hierarchical. I'm going to have to learn to live with it.
What is your ultimate goal: to add a French touch to Osaka or to add a Japanese touch to your own palette?
They told me to do as I wanted. They reassured me about it. I will arrive there with a strong desire and a working method. I will have to take into account Japanese psychology and discipline but I will try to put my touch. They took me for that too.