Ankara, Turkey. Halkbank ANKARA will resume their journey in the 2021 edition of the CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup – Men on Wednesday with a home match against Allianz Powervolley MILANO of Italy – in the first round of the semis.
The match is somehow special for the Austrian star player of Halkbank, Alexander Berger, who spent many years in Italy before moving to Turkey for the 2020-2021 season. “The Italian league is one of the best in the world. MILANO have always finished among the top five or six in the last few seasons, which is testament to the high quality of our next opponent,” he says. “I look forward to two good and exciting matches.”
“As a team we continue to improve and this is an extra boost of motivation,” Berger says. “We all had to deal with contracting the coronavirus earlier this season and I was lucky to show mild symptoms only. Of course, the virus took its toll. It takes more than two months to prepare for the season and you suddenly have to stay under strict quarantine for two weeks with nothing to do. Despite everything, I think we were able to cope with this minimising the ‘damages’ for the team,” he continues.
Berger joined Halkbank in the summer of 2020. “I played a few times against Halkbank in the Champions League. Each season they had a good team and some famous players on their roster. This gives you a clue about the team’s quality. I did not think too much before coming here because I had only heard good things about the club and after arriving, I realised by myself that they were all true. The club is very professional and some sort of heaven for any athlete,” Berger admits.
Alexander believes in hard work since talent does not take you too far in competitive sport. As for his early days, he recalls his story: “There are two volleyball academies in Austria, one in Graz and one in Vienna. Youngsters wishing to pursue a career in the sport usually go there. I discovered Volleyball thanks to my mom and dad. They took me as well as my brother to the training. I liked it a lot and that’s how my career took off.”
His wife, Mirna Jukic, is a former elite swimmer and an Olympic medallist. “I am a lucky person because my wife has a sport background as well. She understands my excitement towards the sport and my love for the game. She is well aware of what it takes to be competitive. Sport comes first for us and she supports me a lot.”
Alexander thinks that there are many talented players in Turkey, including Efe Bayram, the rising star of Halkbank. “Like me, he is an outside hitter as well. He is one of the most talented young players I have seen here. His technical and physical skills are at a high level. You cannot imagine this much capacity at such young age. I can only wish the best for him for the rest of his career.”
The pandemic and relevant restrictions have prevented him from discovering more of Turkey but not the people’s warmth. “I can tell that hospitality is very good here and I feel very comfortable. Yes, I like Turkey.”