So young and already among the best
It is hard to believe that Issy-Paris Handball, the French club that will be playing in the Cup Winners' Cup Final on Sunday, 5 May, is only 14 years old.
The club was created in 1999, was known as the Issy-Les-Moulineaux handball club. Issy is a city located in the south-west of Paris, and the two cities borders touch. But it was only a matter of circumstance that the two linked for this handball project.
After being created in 1999, it was only two years before the Issy club reached the first league. After fluctuating between the first and the second division for a few seasons, the club had its best season in 2009, finishing fourth in the French league and losing to Leipzig in quarter-finals of the EHF Cup.
While things were going well on the court, behind the scenes there was a lot of drama. Due to financial problems, the club was relegated to the second division the following season. However, club president Jean-Marie Sifre took the lead at this moment.
Sifre had the idea of linking his club to Paris, in order to make it "Issy-Paris Hand".
"I want us to be the first women handball team in the Parisian region, this is not just about a town or tow, but about the whole city" explained Sifre.
After one season in second league, Issy-Paris came returned to the first league with a bang. They recruited international players Chalotte Mordal (Norway), Mariama Signaté and Amélie Goudjo (both French) as soon as they had secured a spot at the top table and since then, the club hasn't stopped rising.
They finished eighth in the league in their first season and then went all the way to the finals of the championship, only to be defeated by Arvor 29, a team that has now disappeared due to financial problems.
The girls from Issy-Paris, who only added Montenegro international Jelena Toskovic to its roster this year, have already won the League Cup this year, and are qualified for the semi-final of the League, in addition to their European finals.
"It wasn't our main goal this year. Our first goal was to qualify for the league play-offs, then to win a cup.
"The European cup was only meant to be a bonus. But now that we're in final, we're going to try not to waste, we'll do everything we can to grab it," says Amelie Goudjo, the team's line player.
The club has, over the last few years, quite an original way of running. After recruiting a lot of new players in the last two seasons, Arnaud Gandais (the team's coach) has chosen to keep the squad unchanged, apart from the addition of Toskovic.
"We do a very good job in development and the girls that have been through all the youth teams in Issy-Paris are usually better value than the ones you could buy in foreign countries," said Gandais.
Issy-Paris has built a strong relationship with other clubs in the whole country. These clubs send their best young players to Issy-Paris, with the hope that they might integrate their training centre. In return, Issy-Paris play matches in these clubs' arenas and organise training camps there.
This approach has certainly worked. Seven of the 16 professional players in the Issy-Paris squad were trained and formed there. Even though a lot of them are still young, some, like centre back Coralie Lassource, often get plenty of court time.
However, the players’ development hasn’t ended yet and Arnaud Gandais knows it well.
At 35, he's been coaching Issy-Paris for nine years now, making him the youngest coach ever in the French league.
While some may rest on their laurels, Gandais has still got huge ambitions for his club for the years to come.
"I want to play a game in Paris Bercy (Paris' 15,000 capacity arena) in the coming years, and I want to settle ourselves among the top eight teams of the Champions League as often as we can," said the ambitious coach.
Some may argue that Gandais may be too ambitions, but with what the club has achieved since 2009, you would not bet against him and his team.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor