FEATURE: After 12 months Issy Paris are back in the European Cup final again and this time they want to put their hands on the trophy.
New final, old goal for Issy
Issy-Paris Handball is on the verge of playing its second European Cup final in a row. After a bitter defeat against Hypö NO last season, they are now about to face the Swedish side of Höor in the Challenge Cup final. For a club that has been celebrating its 15 years of existence this season, it's not bad.
"For sure, we're very proud of such a progression," says Jean-Marie Siffre, who's been the president of the club for the last five years.
"But what we are even prouder of, is the fact that we're still in the building phase of our project, learning along the way. Last year's defeat against Hypö NO was part of this process, and I hope we can validate our efforts by winning the Challenge Cup this season."
Created in 1999, the club was originally located in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a nice city which border touches Paris. In 2001, it reached the French first league, before reaching the quarter finals of the EHF Cup in 2009. It was a successful story on the courts, but sadly, things were not going as well behind the curtain.
The club had financial problems, the kind that usually concern the clubs which want to grow too fast. But here comes Jean-Marie Siffre.
"I had to stop this mad train from going. We accepted the idea of playing for one season in the second league in France, just to build new foundations."
It was him that had the idea of adding the Paris bit in the name of his club. "I want us to be the first women handball team in the Parisian region, this is not just about a town, but about the whole city. Nobody outside Paris knew were Issy was before, whereas now, when people hear Paris, it's kind of a magical word. Everyone, sponsors, players can relate to such a town."
Coming back in the first league the season after, the process of expansion began. "We knew that we had to recruit some good players, and some that the fans knew the name of." And in the process, he validated the arrival of Mariama Signaté and Amélie Goudjo, both French internationals. "I think their signature showed everyone how serious our project was," Siffre explains.
"When you have both Goudjo and Signaté, alongside a Norwegian international (Mordal) sign to a new club, you have to believe we've got something serious to offer."
And the project is beginning to convince players overseas, since two more Norwegian players signed this season, including superstar Stine Oftedal from Norway. "What attracted me most here was the handball project, the idea of going up step by step," the 23-year-old centre back explains.
"But then, you can't deny that having Paris at your door is an advantage. The project of having hig-level handball alongside a big city is a very appealing one."
But Issy-Paris is not all about foreign superstars, though, as admits Arnaud Gandais, who has been the team coach for a decade now. "We can't, financially, afford to recruit only from foreign countries. I know some teams in the French league can, but we can't. So we have to turn to other perspectives. Forming our own players, scouting all around the country, building a strong relationship with sattelite club so they send us their best elements. That takes time, and I think we're pretty good at what we do."
In the squad that will take part in the Challenge Cup final next weekend, six players were built in the club's training centre, including Coralie Lassource, who's become a regular fixture on the left wing. "These girls have been playing for Issy for a long time now. They know the project, they know each other very well, and that makes us win time compared to a foreigner that we would have to incorporate."
And to prove that Issy-Paris is doing a pretty good job at forming players, Arnaud Gandais recalls that "Allison Pineau, who was elected IHF player of the year in 2009, spent three years in our training centre, before signing her first contract with us. And Audrey Deroin, the international right winger, was formed here as well."
And while a lot of presidents would be happy with the situation as it is, Siffre is still looking forward.
"We know we have to build a stronger fan-base, and that means carrying on having good, and maybe better results. It seems we're at the first level, and we have to think about ways going to the upper level. Winning our first european trophy, one season after winning our first domestic trophy, would be like closing the first chapter of a book."
Stine Oftedal, on her side, has already ideas about how to get higher: "I think we have to build a winning culture here," she thinks. "To put the club on the handball map, to win trophies, that will help us go higher and higher. But it can't happen overnight, such processes are slow and you have to learn from your failures. Let's hope the club has learnt from last year's..."
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