William Arjona and Leandro Vissotto say good-bye to their athletic careers (Photo: Flavio Tavares/O TEMPO)

William Arjona and Leandro Vissotto say good-bye to their athletic careers (Photo: Flavio Tavares/O TEMPO)

In the 2023 final of the Brazilian Superliga, William Arjona and Leandro Vissotto came out on the losing side, but that did not spoil the moment. The two Olympic medallists bid an emotional farewell to volleyball and put an end to their remarkable playing careers, vowing to give back to the sport in the future.

“The feeling is of mission accomplished. I feel at peace, I did everything I wanted to do and in the best way,” said 43-year-old setter William Arjona. “I lived volleyball intensely and I can only thank this sport. The word is gratitude.”

The moment was even more special for Vissotto, who played the last match of his career right on his 40th birthday.

“The feeling is incredible! It's more than I have ever dreamed of, ending my career like that,” he exclaimed. “Of course, if I could plan it, I would end up with a win, but it was wonderful to experience it all and I am thankful. This enormous affection and everything that volleyball has given me will stay in my memory forever.”

William and Vissotto honoured after the last match of their careers (Credits: Maurício Val/FVImagem/CBV)

William and Vissotto honoured after the last match of their careers (Credits: Maurício Val/FVImagem/CBV)

Vissotto was born on April 30, 1983 and started his career at the age of 16 in his native city, at Flamengo Rio de Janeiro. When he made his debut for the Brazilian men’s national team, he had already triumphed as both youth and junior world champion in 2001. When he added the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship gold to his collection, he became one of only two Brazilians to have ever claimed the world titles in all three categories.

Vissotto’s national team showcase also includes a 2014 World Championship silver, a London 2012 Olympic silver, a 2009 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup gold, a 2011 FIVB Volleyball World Cup bronze, four gold and three silver medals from the FIVB Volleyball World League, and two continental crowns in South America.

The 2.12m-tall opposite’s club career was just as impressive and took him through clubs in Brazil, Italy, Russia, Korea, Japan and Qatar. As a member of Italy’s Trentino BetClic Trento, Vissotto celebrated a 2009 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship crown, in between their two CEV Champions League titles in 2009 and 2010 and among numerous other continental and domestic trophies and medals. Last year he made the Dream Team at the South American Club Championship, where his Brazilian team Itambe Minas Belo Horizonte took silver before adding another one in 2023. In the last match of his career, Minas lost the Brazilian Superliga final to Sada Cruzeiro Volei Belo Horizonte and settled for another silver.

“To name just one special moment is always unfair, but my best memory is from the Youth World Championship in Poland, where we became champions. It was the only title when I actually cried. It was very exciting. We were there as boys, starting our dream, and it was the championship that marked my life the most,” Vissotto told O Tempo Sports. “We went way longer than average. I never imagined stopping at 40. The feeling is of accomplishment, and now I will be able to dedicate myself to other areas of my life.

“Now it's time to rest, spend more time with my family and try to give back to the sport everything it has given me. I am available and open to help, not only on the court, but also off the court. There are many pitfalls in an athlete's career and receiving advice is very important for the kids.”

Meanwhile, William Arjona not only vowed to give back to the sport, but actually started doing so just days after the end of his playing career. He travelled to the United States to teach and mentor next generation playmakers at an Elite Setter Clinic at the Pinnacle Athletic Club in Long Beach.

William was born on July 31, 1979 in Sao Paulo and started his professional career at Report Suzano in 1996, right after he became a gold medallist and the Best Setter of the 1996 Youth South American Championship. He earned the same individual recognition at the 1997 FIVB Volleyball Boys’ U19 World Championship and the 1998 Junior South American Championship, where Brazil once again claimed the continental crown. Arjona became a regular member of the senior national team years later, in 2013, and competed for Brazil until 2018. During that time, he triumphed as a Rio 2016 Olympic champion and won a 2018 World Championship silver, two World League silvers (2013 and 2016) and a 2013 South American Championship gold.

“I remember watching the 1992 generation on the podium and thinking, 'these guys are Olympic heroes', and a few years later I was in that position. I can't describe the feeling, because there are so many. Winning an Olympic medal, regardless of colour, is the pinnacle for any athlete. It was at home, my family was there, my children were on the court... It was surreal to think about. Without a doubt, I close my career with that image,” the legendary playmaker told O Tempo Sports. “I think what was meant to happen happened. I played where I had to play and I have no regrets or memories of something I wanted to do and didn't do.”

Unlike Vissotto, Arjona spent most of his club career in Brazil, with the exception of four seasons as a member of Argentina’s Drean Bolivar, where he won four national golden doubles and the South American Club Championship title in 2010, and earned the nickname El Mago (The Magician). He had his most successful period right after that, as a player of Sada Cruzeiro. In addition to numerous continental and domestic trophies and individual awards, El Mago collected three Club World Championship crowns and a silver, garnished with three Best Setter awards and, most importantly, the Most Valuable Player honour in 2016. Ironically, the last match of Arjona’s career was against the club he achieved the most success with.

“It is a privilege for us to finish with Minas, the most traditional team in Brazil,” he said. “Minas believed in us at an advanced age, believing that we could make a difference both on the court and in helping the kids that are coming. I didn't have that when I was their age, an Olympic athlete to advise me.”

Itambe Minas honour the end of William and Vissotto’s careers (Photo: Hedgard Moraes/MTC)

Itambe Minas honour the end of William and Vissotto’s careers (Photo: Hedgard Moraes/MTC)

“I left on the court everything I could for the sport. I did my best and that's why I know I can leave with my head held high and with the mission accomplished. I did my best from the first to the last day in training and games,” William told globo.com. “I don't know how it's going to be, but I'm thinking about waking up, having a quiet coffee, knowing that there will be no training...”