Karalek wants to show himself in Europe
For Artsem Karalek, the past 12 months or so have been turbulent. In April 2015, the 20-year-old line player made a sensational debut for the Belarus men’s national team, scoring six goals against Niklas Landin in an EHF EURO 2016 qualifying match against Denmark.
In July he was one of the leaders in the Belarus men’s junior team who finished sixth at the Men’s IHF Junior World Championship 2015 in Brazil after losing to Sweden in the 5/6 Placement match, but beating a strong Spanish side in the previous placement match.
Earlier this year, in January 2016, Karalek made his debut in a senior tournament, featuring at the Men’s EHF EURO 2016 in Poland. And now, one of the greatest talents of Belarusian handball competes with his club SKA Minsk for a spot in the Men’s EHF Cup Quarter-Final.
Minsk can still secure second place in the group C with a home win against French side Saint-Raphael Var Handball on the last match day (Sunday 27 March), which will bring them up to six points, and, depending on other results in all the final group games, and due to Nantes hosting the finals, and with it direct qualificaiton, Minsk could find themselves out of the competition, so a win is an absolute must.
They would have been in a better position if they had beaten Pfadi Winterthur in Switzerland last week but lost clearly by eight goals (32:24) and now it is crunch time.
"Our morale before the game was high, but probably we underestimated the opponent,” said an honest Karalek to eurohandball.com. “I cannot find any other reason – we thought that we would win but now our situation is not too good, because it is not in our own hands.
“We will try to beat Saint-Raphael and wait what happens but whatever does happen this is a big step in my career and for Minsk – it’s a new level and a chance to show ourselves in Europe,” he continued.
“I think SKA have one of the youngest squads in the tournament, so overall I am very happy with our results, even if we lost in Switzerland.”
Born in Grodno, a city in western Belarus, Karalek did not set out to become a handball player when he was a child.
"I played football and always thought that handball was not an interesting game,” he said. “But when I was 13 I saw an advertisement inviting kids to handball classes. I do not know why, but I decided to try my luck. It went amazingly well, and when a few years later I signed my first contract with Kronon Grodno, I realized that I could achieve something.”
In the summer of 2014, the line player got an offer from SKA Minsk, the traditional Belarusian club who had their glory days in Europe back in the 1980s, but who now specialise in growing domestic talent.
"I think that for a young player, SKA is the best option in Belarus,” said Karalek. “I really enjoy working with our coaches Spartak Mironovich, Alexander Karshakevich and Igor Papruga. It is a huge experience and I learn something new every day."
Since last spring, the 20-year-old has been regularly called up to the Belarus national team and helped his country on their way to EHF EURO 2016, but could not show his best qualities in Poland due to a shoulder injury.
"Well I was supposed to miss the tournament,” he admitted. “But the doctors did their best, and I played in Poland, even if not from the start, but my physical condition was poor, and while I am happy with the team result overall, I was not pleased with my own game.”
Planning the future
Karalek is often called the most talented Belarusian player of the next generation, yet he takes such compliments calmly.
"Let people call me whatever they like,” he said knowingly. “Yes, it is pleasant [to hear those comments], but everything depends on me anyway. If I do not play well in the next month, what will they say then?”
Still, the Belarusian is modest but quite ambitious. In a few years, he hopes to leave his homeland and play in a more competitive league, but is quite specific about where and where not he would like to continue his club career.
"Every professional makes career plans,” he revealed. “At SKA, we do not have too many competitive games during the season. In the Belarusian league, we beat many opponents by 20 or 30 goals. I would like to play in Germany, France, Spain or Poland where there are more competitive matches every week.
"Bjerringbro-Silkeborg are one of the best Danish teams, and we beat them at home,” he continued. “I am sure that we are better than Winterthur, even though we lost to them in Switzerland, so it makes no sense to me to move to the leagues when even their top teams are not better than SKA.”
For someone so young, he is full of confidence – a key tool needed at the elite end of professional sports and for Karalek, that confidence extends directly to his own playing style and career.
"I have my own original style and do not copy anyone,” he said.
“Let other players want to be like me.”
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / es, amc