Big expectations, high pressure
With the new EHF Champions League Men and DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League season 2020/21 just over a month away, we take a deep dive into various aspects of the competitions. Today, the focus is on which coaches have the biggest challenges ahead of them, in terms of expectations, squad changes and external factors.
10 - Stevche Alushovski (HC Vardar 1961)
A new era has begun at the reigning EHF Champions League winners. With Mihajlo Mihajlovski taking over as general manager from Sergej Samsonenko, the club’s struggle to survive came to a successful end.
With the likes of Lovro Jotic and Marko Vujin, Vardar managed to sign some experienced names, while many others remained, starting the mission to return on top of Europe again. The frenetic fans in Skopje hope for an upswing and new coach Stevche Alushovski, a legend in his country, is the man expected to stand and thrive in the heat of the Jane Sandanski Arena.
9 - Gabor Elek (FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria)
FTC are forever dreaming of making the short trip to the Papp-Laszlo Arena in Budapest year after year. But this season, the squad looks stronger than ever thanks to the arrival of Dutch world champion Angela Malestein or German top talent Emily Bölk.
After regularly missing the final destination of the DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League by a narrow margin, coach Gabor Elek will set the ambitions high for his young yet internationally experienced side.
8 – Laurent Bezeau (Brest Bretagne Handball)
Perhaps the standout surprise in European club handball last season was Brest Bretagne Handball. The team from Brittany was the only one to snatch a point from Györ and looked serious challengers to reach Budapest for the first time.
But the element of surprise is now gone and opponents will be targeting them. Coach Laurent Bezeau can count on almost the same squad, adding one of Europe’s top talents Djurdjina Jaukovic to a well-rehearsed team. The goal is to make it to the DELO EHF FINAL4, but that is easier said than done.
7 - Xavi Pascual (Barça)
Eight titles in the cabinet, five years since they last stood atop the podium and always among the favourites - Barça eagerly await another moment of glory in Europe and many believe the wait is almost over.
With the new situation and the EHF FINAL4 in December, Raul Entrerrios and Cedric Sorhaindo extended their stay, while the signing of Slovenian duo Blaz Janc and Domen Makuc signalling a bright future, there is much to excited about, but Xavi Pascual’s problem is always the same, a lack of competition at home in the ASOBAL League. That could be a blessing in disguise for them, however, as they can focus their workload on peaking in December, while Veszprém, PSG and Kiel will have tougher months behind them.
6 - Ole Gustav Gjekstad (Vipers Kristiansand)
After a disappointing main round and by signing world star Nora Mork, the Vipers look set to strike again. Coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad knows the way to Budapest, as he has been there twice, with Larvik in 2015 and Vipers in 2019. But having a squad like this, with almost the entire Norwegian national team besides the stars from Györ, puts some pressure on the Vipers.
The big question mark will be around Mork’s state of fitness, but if the Vipers play as they did in the group matches last season, they are a candidate to go all the way again.
5 - Mr or Ms X (Rostov)
Surprisingly, Ambros Martin ended his stint at the Russian powerhouse only some days ago. After steering Rostov to the 2019 final, the Spaniard decided to leave but will remain on as Russian national team coach.
His successor remains to be seen. One candidate was Helle Thomsen, but she decided to take over Kastamonu in Turkey. Definitely, the expectations in Rostov for the new arrival will be high, as the usual goal is to make it to Budapest and they will not have a long time to work with the players before competitive action begins.
4 - Filip Jicha (THW Kiel)
Having won the German Bundesliga, qualified for the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne and received the award as best handball coach in Germany in his first season as a head coach, Filip Jicha appears to have the Midas touch, but knowing the fans at Kiel only want one thing - trophies, trophies and trophies, you have to deliver even more.
Jicha was a world-class player in his day and it will be fascinating to see how he works with perhaps the best player in the world right now- Sander Sagosen, who joined the Zebras from PSG. The desire for more will be impossible to ignore and the Czech coach must deliver.
3 - Adrian Vasile (CSM Bucuresti)
Although two world-class players, Andrea Lekic (Buducnost) and Nora Mörk (Vipers), left CSM, the squad still boasts plenty of quality and is led by four-time IHF World Player of the Year Cristina Neagu.
After many international coaches have come and gone, Romanian Adrian Vasile has been tasked with bringing the ship to Budapest. The expectations in Bucharest and Romania as a whole are always huge, but with Siraba Dembele and Alexandrina Barbosa Cabral arriving, the talent is there to go all the way for the first time since 2016.
2- David Davis (Telekom Veszprém)
When will this dire final curse come to an end? This is the question thousands of Veszprém fans ask before the start of every season. In 2002, 2015, 2016 and 2019, Veszprém made it to the final, but they have yet to lift the trophy.
David Davis knows how it feels to stand atop the podium as a player, now he wants to become the third man from the old Ciudad Real gang, after Talant Dujshebaev and Roberto Parrondo Garcia, to win the trophy as a coach. With the arrival of the Spanish EHF EURO champions Jorge Maqueda and Rodrigo Corrales, the goal is in sight again and the curse must someday be lifted.
1 - Raul Gonzalez (Paris Saint-Germain Handball)
He was signed to win the big one, but so far Raul Gonzalez has been unable to replicate the 2017 victory with Vardar.
Having fallen short twice with Gonzalez at the helm, PSG now have two chances within six months. Despite the departure of superstar Sander Sagosen and right wing legend Luc Abalo, the squad still looks quite impressive with the Karabatic brothers and Mikkel Hansen being joined by Dainis Kristopans. With strong financial strength comes massive expectations and PSG will soon have to deliver a title, two would be even better.
But what do you think? Cast your vote for the coach with the biggest challenge ahead in the upcoming season below.