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25.02.2016, 13:40
Not the man from La Mancha
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BLOG: Before coming to Szeged for the MOTW vs Vardar ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain finds the inspiration for his blog in a famous novel.
 

Not the man from La Mancha

This week’s game is on 28 February and interestingly enough it’s not the last day of the month.

It’s a leap year and strange things happen on leap years, right? No not quite; although in Ireland a woman can propose to her beau, if she wants. The worker in me just says that on a fixed income, I work a day for free in 2016.

Enough of the poor mouth!  How amazing is the job that Juan Carlos is doing in Szeged. The “Pastor” has gathered his flock for a serious tilt at the VELUX EHF Champions League.

This is the man who for 18 years steered a club in Valladolid, never quite winning the Asobal, but garnering honours for a club outside the traditional strongholds.

When he first went to MOL-Pick Szeged, I wondered what he was doing. Surely even the financial decline in Spain wouldn’t warrant a trip to the “Sun City”.

Although Szeged is one of my favourite clubs, it wasn’t exactly brimming with titles. At the time that Pastor went, they were the perennial bridesmaids of Hungarian handball, with a title from 2007, their last championship.

I’m sure mine wasn’t the only raised eyebrow. Enter the knight errant, Don Quixote. For that was my fear for Pastor at the time.

He was seriously tilting at windmills if he thought he could resurrect Szeged. Small stadium, small budget, yet loyal crowd, the team lacked the manpower to really achieve anything great.

I apologise for flogging a dead horse, but Szeged was the equivalent of “Rocinante”, the beleaguered mount of the aforementioned Don Quixote.

Szeged was tired and although the atmosphere was always amazing it was more in hope than expectation that they triumphed in the CL, albeit they pulled off some amazing results.

He galvanised them. He convinced players to make the switch to the club and within a year had won the EHF Cup, a feat that I thought was completely beyond them.

But then again if I’m a supposed expert in handball, I have to remind myself of something: “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows absolutely everything about nothing”.

That keeps me grounded. What I should have realised is that the passion of the club was a perfect match for a workaholic. He won’t care that there is another day in February; it will just be an extra day that he can get his message across to his players.

Whatever he is doing, it is working. This team is brilliant and you can see how tactically aware they are. His philosophy is bearing fruit and according to my calculations they are in third place, ahead of RNL in the group on the basis of head to head.

I tried to figure out the permutations and possibilities of this group B, who might end up where, but came up with the phrase: “You think you know, but you haven’t got a clue”.

It’s the best I can do. What I do know is that Szeged lost to Kiel last season in the round of 8 and will be keen not to play them in the knockout stage, just in case Kiel experience a resurrection. So fourth at the very least is the least they have to aim for.

Whatever the scenario Vardar also needs to win this game and they have all the potential to do it. They just need to realise that defence is key. If they defend as they did against Kristianstad, then it could be a bloodbath.

This arena may be small, but the level of audience participation is incredible. They sit atop the playing field, whereby all visiting teams can see the whites of their eyes. Roared on by their fans, the team of Pastor has created a handball temple.

Another Spanish coach will come to do battle with my Don Quixote.

Big mistake...... I should be calling him “El Cid”.

Geographically, I think, he and Pastor come from the same neck of the woods.

Philosophically, they are both winners.


TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator
 
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