Betim, Brazil, December 6, 2019 – Maxim Mikhaylov has been among the best opposites in the world for the last decade. However, fans following the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship in Betim, Brazil probably noticed that the 31-year-old Russian star has been playing a different role for Zenit Kazan lately.
Awarded as the Best Opposite of the 2015 Club World Championship, the Russian star has recently switched to the outside hitter position after the club signed Bulgarian scoring machine Tsvetan Sokolov, who also plays primarily as an opposite.
The new formations seems to be working well, at least in the offensive end, as Mikhaylov and Sokolov were the top scorers of the preliminary round with 36 points each.
“When Sokolov joined us, we thought that the team would be stronger with him playing as opposite, so I decided to switch to outside hitter so that could happen,” Mikhaylov explained. “If that makes our team better, I’m willing to move and help.”
The Russian is one of the most decorated players in the recent history of the sport as he is a London 2012 Olympic champion, a 2011 World Cup winner, a 2018 Volleyball Nations League gold medallist and a two-time European champion with his national team.
At club level, he has compiled numerous accolades since he joined Zenit, in 2010, including the 2017 Club World Championship, five European Champions League titles and six Russian Championships.
And after all that, he was still open for a new start.
“I haven’t been playing as an outside hitter for a long time, so I’d say I’m still adjusting to it,” the Russian reflected. “For now, the toughest part is receiving serves, which I didn’t do when I was an opposite.”
Mikhaylov (17) switched to an outside hitter role during the gold medal match of the 2012 Olympics
The Russian veteran, however, is not completely unfamiliar with his new position as he played arguably the most important three sets of his career, in the gold medal match of the 2012 London Olympics, as an outside hitter.
On that occasion, head coach Vladimir Alekno, who is also Zenit’s coach, moved Mikhaylov to the position and switched middle-blocker Dmitry Muserskiy to his opposite spot, which resulted in a memorable turnaround for the Europeans, who recovered from a two-set deficit to defeat Brazil 3-2 and top the podium at Earls Court.
“That was a different situation,” Mikhaylov reacted when asked about that match. “It was just a temporary switch for that specific match while now this is my regular position, which is a lot harder. But I’m trying my best to be a good player and help my team as an outside hitter as well.”