Grebennikov: Win or lose, it's always with a smile

Or how the most positive player becomes the best libero in the world

Known as one of the most positive players in the world of volleyball, French libero Jenia Grebennikov has had plenty of good reasons to smile on the court. But he does not seem to need a special reason or excuse to smile; he just does.

He has made his mark on the volleyball courts with more than just a smile, however. His skills make him arguably the best libero in the world today.

Born in 1990 in the family of former Soviet volleyballer Boris Grebennikov, young Jenia started playing professionally with Rennes Volley 35, a club from his hometown in France. He stayed until 2013 and won his first national trophy, the 2012 France Cup.

He made his debut with the French national team at the 2011 FIVB Volleyball World League and took over from legendary French libero Hubert Henno. He joined a golden generation of players who were gradually to lift France into the top teams in the world.

Grebennikov’s first major success with the national team jersey came in 2014, at the FIVB Volleyball World Championship, where France finished fourth. He was voted into the Dream Team as the best libero of the tournament.

The talented athlete made a solid contribution to France’s magnificent rise in the 2015 World League. Grebennikov and his teammates started the season from the second flight of the competition, won the finals in Group 2 and not only qualified for the finals in the top-tier Group 1, but battled it out against the best teams in the world to win the gold medal. It was Jenia’s first podium with the national team.

Grebennikov celebrates his first national team trophy in the 2015 World League

The second medal came later that year, when France triumphed as continental champs at the CEV European Championship and Grebennikov was honoured as the Best Libero of EuroVolley 2015.

The stellar French squad won medals at the next two editions of the World League as well, a 2016 bronze (with Grebennikov once again on the Dream Team) and a 2017 gold.

At the same time, the 1.88m-tall libero was also following his path to success at the club level. With his first foreign team, VfB Friedrichshafen, he won the national title and twice the national cup of Germany, before transferring to Cucine Lube Civitanova.

With the Italian powerhouse, Grebennikov took silver and the Best Libero award at the 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men's Club World Championship, bronze medals and the Best Libero awards at both the 2016 and 2017 editions of the CEV Champions League, and a golden double domestically in 2017.

The 2018 calendar year was probably the most amazing in Jenia Grebennikov’s sporting career so far. He played in six big finals, three international and three domestic, and had to settle for silver in the first five of them: the Italy Cup, the Italian championship and the Champions League with Lube, the FIVB Volleyball Nations League with France and the Italy Super Cup with his new club Trentino Volley Trento. He finally emerged with gold at the 2018 Club World Championship in Poland.

“2018 was very successful for me, but could have been more successful because I lost five finals. It was crazy that in the end I finally won a gold medal - a great feeling to win that final against my previous club Lube! It was a very good year - I learned a lot and I think now I am a better player than before,” Grebennikov told Volleyball World.

In that year he also won the Best Libero award at three major international competitions – the VNL, the Club World Championship and the Champions League.

“I am very happy and proud to get these individual titles, but I was lucky because I played in good teams, which advanced to the final rounds,” Grebennikov commented humbly. “These prizes push me to be better and motivate me to go to practice and work harder, but of course I prefer to get a gold medal with my team and not just the award for the best libero.”

Before starting the current club season with his new Italian team, Leo Shoes Modena, the French libero spent a total of two seasons with Trentino, also earning the CEV Cup trophy in 2019.

In Grebennikov’s most recent appearance for his country in January 2020, France booked an Olympic ticket to Tokyo. His Italian club team is also currently doing well in the Champions League, so the 30-year-old star can expect more reasons to put a smile on his face in 2021 and in the new decade ahead. Not that he needs any...

“The only time I am a little sad is when I am alone at home. But I always smile when I am with somebody, be it my family or my teammates. I am very positive, because I enjoy my life,” Grebennikov explained.

“To be a professional volleyball player was my dream, so I have nothing to be sad about. I am very lucky! It is even possible that my positive attitude is the key to my success, because physically I am OK for a libero, but I am not very good technically. However, because I am happy to play, I always give my maximum, I push my team and I enjoy playing volleyball just like I did when I was a kid - I haven’t changed.”

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