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24.09.2015, 18:20
Who says you can’t win anything with kids?
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Nemanja Savic on whys and hows of the best regional youth systems, and deciphering the recipe of long-term success ahead of the VELUX EHF Champions League clash between Celje and Zagreb
 

Who says you can’t win anything with kids?

Every now and then comes a team that defies the equation: financial resources plus individual quality equals results.  Accidently (or not), these thought-provoking occurrences seem to appear somewhere in the Balkan region.

Croatia and Slovenia, or more precisely Zagreb and Celje should be among the very first destinations on the map, when in lookout for that ‘certain something’ HC PPD Zagreb gave a taste of last Thursday in Round 1. 

Yet again, the handball-loving public will also be pointing in direction of Celje and Zagreb, looking into the career paths of many world-class players they admire donning the crests of Europe’s finest.

However, with a reputation of being the hothouse for those clubs privileged with a formidable pulling power, the ubiquitous “How?” ponders in the mind of a beholder witnessing their intermittent climb atop the Europe’s elite competition.

Zagreb did it in 1992 and 1993, Celje in 2004.

The creation

Playing quality handball and producing world beaters able to compete with Europe’s finest at tender age, with minimum resources available has nothing to do with luck, if you are coming from either of the of the youth-developing powerhouses. It is tradition.

Carrying the wealth of knowledge passed on by the old coaching legends, these handball hatcheries thrive on moulding exceptional talent for the game.

Sculpted like clay are today’s Lackovic, Basic, Balic, in the form of maybe Pavlovic, Ivic, Obranovic, and very likely somebody else. However, one thing is certain, some new kids come on the block each and every year, and it becomes most evident on the big stage - the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Because of that, everyone knows about David Razgor or Luka Zvizej, but what if I was to say Blaz Janc or his namesake Blagotinsek? No?

Do not despair, nor embark upon a frantic search on the eurohandball.com, because I am certain that neither Dragan Gajic or Renato Vugrinec were mouth-watering names in 2003 - a year before the later lifted the EHF Champions League trophy with Celje in their one and only final appearance to date.

If you actually embarked on a journey to visit Celje or Zagreb (as I have, quite a few times), other than a really nice looking city, you will notice another thing – handball is a religion over there. Clubs and their arenas are cathedrals.

Both Zagreb and Celje impose themselves as the top youth facilities for all local talent. Even if they do not originate from the city area, talented boys leave their small clubs for a chance to challenge for a place on the team and reaching their dreams.

The creation begins.

Coming of age

Last time I spoke with Zagreb’s goalkeeping stalwart Filip Ivic, he was impressed by the magnificent Nicklas Landin hoping to emulate even a slightest part of his awe-inspiring career some day. On Thursday the Zagreb kid came head-to-head with his THW Kiel counterpart and did not get star-struck, he entirely stole the show.

Sandro Obranovic was a promising talent with a lot to prove before Vujovic took the helm at Zagreb. In just one season the coach elevated the levels of now quintessential centre back to rival the likes of Momir Ilic for SEHA league prestige, while pulling the strings in a second consecutive upset of THW Kiel.

Celje saw their local boys Ziga Mlakar and David Razgor terrorize the net of much experienced and expensive Besiktas side in Istanbul on Saturday. The same match saw the above-mentioned Celje-born Blaz Janc score his 50th, yes 50th VELUX EHF Champions League goal. Not bad for a youngster only turning 19 in November.

But with the plethora of youth, there is no better way to voice your appreciation and love for the club than to return after years away to support the project. Players of both teams have done it, most prominently Luka Zvizej who gave up the glory of Barcelona and Pick Szeged to become a building block of the new generation at Celje over the past five seasons.

Alongside the ehfTV Match Of The Week on Saturday between Veszprem and Flensburg (which is going to be a cracker, no doubt about it), I would kindly ask you to as least take a peek at the Celje vs Zagreb game - you will thank me later. 

With all the above said, can there be a better reference to follow Saturday’s clash (the sleeper match of the week, in my humble opinion)?

Actually, there is.

Head to head

Other than the similar policies, quite a few similarities can be drawn between the both teams. Coaching legends Ante Kostelic and Abaz Arslanagic, fabled players like Renato Sulic and Denis Spoljaric have proudly sported the colours of both clubs on their way to stardom.

However, none of the words said or written could describe the tangible excitement I get when the two teams collide on Saturday.

It is a clash of the systems as both teams enjoy a rise in form in seasons past, and the youngsters are suddenly coming of age to deliver on the big stage. It is a chess match between Tamse and Vujovic with a lot of pride at at stake, having some of the best youth systems in the region at their disposal.

If you want to get into the essence of Balkan handball and have not had a chance to, I hope I have done well in these 1000 words or so, to bring you the nitty-gritty to the legendary history, as well as present day promise of both teams.

Some may argue they still do not have what it takes to be considered among the very greatest European clubs today, but the empires are built stone by stone, and let me remind you what David used to slay Goliath.

Nemanja Savic is a media and communication professional from Serbia, with passion for sports, media, storytelling, traveling and music. He has got a degree in Media & Communication Studies and a diverse professional profile; working as a journalist, translator, media manager and content creator.

Strong handball background and genuine love for the game, sees him perfectly suited for his current filed of work. Needless to say, Nemanja enjoys working as an EHF journalist - and being a former player, sees his work as a way to connect his great passions - media and handball.


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cor
 
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