INTERVIEW: Rk Gorenje Velenje coach Gregor Cvijič wants to bring Gorenje and Slovenian club handball back to its former glory, starting with the EHF Cup Finals
Ambitious Velenje venture to bring back the old glow
Gregor Cvijič has been head coach of Gorenje Velenje for just one month but already faces a major challenge with his young team in the form of this weekend's EHF Cup Finals.
eurohandball.com: You took over at the beginning of April, following the Slovenian Cup final defeat to Celje Pivovarna Laško, resulting in Ivan Vajdl’s resignation. With the upcoming challenge of the EHF Cup Finals drawing nearer, what are your impressions of the team so far?
Gregor Cvijič: The season might be nearing the end, but there is a lot of work to be done. We are competing on two fronts this season – both the EHF Cup and the domestic league, and it takes a lot of energy and focus to maintain consistency and not lose out.
I've been in charge for just under a month, but this team is well selected and the players work very hard. They are a very committed group, and they respond well to my coaching. We have the system set, and everything fits just nicely. For the time being, the team is feeling well and they look good in training.
You have to give credit to this team for performing admirably throughout the season. There are still matches to go, and I hope everyone will contribute to the best of their ability.
eurohandball.com: Your team is playing very dynamic, fast-paced handball. A little bit unorthodox compared to the handball played in the region, and looking back at the Yugoslavian school...
Gregor Cvijič: We have a plan to play a bit faster and dynamic than what you would usually expect from a team coming from the former Yugoslavia. It has become our signature style we nurture and develop.
On the other hand, looking at our team, we need to play fast-paced, technical handball. There is no alternative, because our team doesn't possess particular strength and physicality to play differently. Our endeavour is to play attractive handball – a style we enjoy playing and the fans enjoy watching.
eurohandball.com: You have a fairly young team, yet it is very well balanced, blending domestic talent and some of the up and coming regional players. Everyone fit into the system and it is apparent on the court. Is this the winning formula for Gorenje?
Gregor Cvijič: We do have a young team - all our players are of a fairly similar age, and they are somewhat inexperienced. However, this is a team that plays well together, and that is the most important attribute we have if you ask me.
We have some domestic talent in Staš Skube and Mario Šoštarič, two Bosnian national team players Benjamin and Senjamin Burić, as well as Montenegrin left back talent, Miloš Božović. There is also Michal Szyba, a Polish player who has adapted very well in the team.
All of them have found their place in the game plan we have, and play an important role in the team. Our team doesn't have the biggest stars, but everyone is 100% committed, and we win as a whole.
eurohandball.com: You have made it among the four best team of the EHF Cup - the best result since 2008/09 season, when Gorenje played in the EHF Cup Finals. Are you determined to go all the way this time?
Gregor Cvijič: It is a great opportunity to show what we can do as a team. It would be hard to compare the two competitions because the format is much different. While the final tournament is difficult to play, I think the draw is ideal for us to prove our merit. Fuchse is a top quality team, with good results in the Bundesliga. They are the hosts of the EHF Cup Finals and real favourites. We are looking forward to the test.
The final tournament is the crown achievement of our season, but we must not get carried away. It’s an extremely tough event to play. Everything comes down to two days, during which you have to show what you can do.
eurohandball.com: Having a vast and diverse coaching experience, coaching of RK Bosna Sarajevo in the VELUX EHF Champions League, among other teams in your career - would that be the all-important experience to pass on to your players before the EHF Cup Final Tournament?
Gregor Cvijič: When you have your whole season’s work come down to just two matches in the Slovenian league and two games in the EHF Cup, you need more than just a good team to make it through.
The EHF Champions League is a great experience, which helps a lot. Of course, I am trying to pass any advice I might have to my players in order to help them succeed. We all rely on each other here, and gain experience as a whole.
Of course, we aspire towards the VELUX EHF Champions League in many ways – it’s what all teams want in terms of performance as well as results.
Playing in top European competitions like the EHF Cup, and against the best teams like Fuchse, we need to raise the level of performance and play our two best matches of the season.
eurohandball.com: Slovenian club handball is ruthless. We have seen many coaching changes (including your predecessor, Ivan Vajdl) to the top teams over the years, due to just one game. Do you feel the pressure to succeed?
Gregor Cvijič: It is how it is. You cannot help it. I feel it is only natural to feel the pressure, but you have to channel it into positive energy to make a good result. That is the only way to succeed.
Slovenian handball is progressing, but it is still some way from being anywhere near Europe’s top leagues. All domestic clubs have the same problems. We develop our own players and the past years have seem some excellent talent come trough the ranks of Velenje and other Slovenian clubs. However, the most difficult part is to keep them at their domestic clubs, in order to reap the benefits in years to come.
eurohandball.com: Having a young, determined bunch playing as one unit at your disposal, what are the limits of this Velenje team?
Gregor Cvijič: We are ambitious, hard working and always aim high. The sky is the limit, in my opinion. We have to think like that if we want to achieve great things.
Our main goal is to display our best handball in the EHF Cup. In the domestic competition, we have to put up a big fight to bring the VELUX EHF Champions League back to Velenje after it slipped trough our fingers last term.
What we are trying to accomplish is to bring back the old glow of Slovenian handball and I reckon we are well on our way to do so, starting from this season.
TEXT: Nemanja Savic / me / cor
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