New-look Vardar retain same ambition
New players, a new name and a previous owner returning to the club are the three main things that have changed ahead of the new season for two-time EHF Champions League winners HC Vardar 1961.
Although the future of the club was quite uncertain at the beginning of the summer, the changes mean that HC Vardar 1961 still have high aims in Europe’s premier competition.
- in June 2020, Sergej Samsonenko returned the club to previous owner Mihajlo Mihajlovski, who had managed Vardar for two decades.
- during the summer, the club changed their name to HC Vardar 1961
- were favourites to win Macedonian championship in 2019/20, but the season was cancelled due to COVID-19
- the most successful club in Macedonian handball have former legendary player Stevche Alushovski as head coach
- despite many changes to the roster, the club extended the contracts of Dibirov, Cupic and Stoilov – all of whom were part of Vardar’s two CL title triumphs
Most important question: What is HC Vardar 1961’s biggest motivation this season?
Besides the EHF Champions League, Vardar can expect an interesting season in the domestic championship as well, as two domestic rivals, Metalurg and Eurofarm Pelister, have promising squads.
Stojanche Stoilov acknowledges that the general impression is that Vardar will have challenges this season, particularly given how strong their opponents are in group A of the EHF Champions League Men.
“The club is in transition now, a new owner, a lot of new players and also a new coach. The group is very tough and a lot of people think that HC Vardar 1961 will have a difficult season,” he said.
But the club captain is confident that the team is motivated to prove that they are still among the best teams in Europe.
“I think that this will be the main reason for our motivation: to prove once more that HC Vardar 1961 belongs in the top teams of the EHF Champions League. It’s going to be difficult, but at least we will give our best in order to make happy our fans and management,” said Stoilov.
Under the spotlight: Timur Dibirov
Dibirov joined Vardar in 2013 and has since been a pillar of the Macedonian side’s squad. Although the team has several new signings, everyone expects that the stability of the team will depend on the older players.
Dibirov, a fast break specialist and a key player in defence, should be able to lead the team to new achievements.
How they rate themselves
This summer was decisive when it comes to the future of the most successful Macedonian club.
Sergej Samsonenko was not able to finance the club anymore, and Mihajlo Mihajlovski, the previous owner, said he was “forced” to take on one of the best European brands as he did not want the club to disappear.
With several signings, the Macedonian champions still want to win both domestic trophies. Vardar will also aim high in the EHF Champions League.
“We made maximum efforts and we added nine quality players with whom we will be competitive in Europe. We hope for a successful performance and the ambition of the club this season is to reach the quarter-finals in EHF Champions League,” said club owner and sponsor Mihajlo Mihajlovski.
Did you know?
Founded in 1961, over the years, Vardar have had players from many different nationalities in the squad.
However, with the signings of Robin Cantegrel and Patryk Walczak, the men’s squad has French and Polish players for the first time.
What the numbers say
Vardar are currently led by Stevche Alushovski, one of the most legendary players in the Macedonian national team.
Alushovski wore Vardar’s “red-black” jersey for 10 years and was also captain of the team. Now, 10 years later, he is head coach of the team where he won 11 trophies as a left wing – six Macedonian league titles and five Macedonian cups.
Newcomers and left the club
Newcomers: Patryk Walczak (TuS Lubbecke), Tomislav Jagurinovski (HC Metalurg), Goce Georgievski (CSM Bucuresti), Lovro Jotic (HC Eurofarm Rabotnik), Ante Gadza (HC PPD Zagreb), Filip Taleski (HBW Balingen), Marko Vujin (Sporting CP), Josip Vekic (HC PPD Zagreb), Robin Cantegrel (Cesson Rennes Metropole)
Left the club: Dejan Kukulovski (HC Eurofarm Rabotnik), Domen Sikosek Pelko (BM Logroño La Rioja), Stas Skube (HC Meshkov Brest), Khalifa Ghedbane (Ademar Leon), Jose Toledo (HC Minaur Baia Mare), Sergej Gorbok (retired), Sergej Gorpishin, Arturs Kugis
EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2020/21 season): 15
Winners (2): 2016/17, 2018/19
Semi-final (1): 2017/18 (4th at the EHF FINAL4)
Quarter-final (3): 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16
Last 16 (1): 2019/20
Group Phase (6): 2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2009/10
Last 32 (1): 1999/2000
Cup Winners’ Cup: Semi-finals 1998/99, 2004/05, 2010/11, Quarter-finals 2006/07
SEHA league: 4 titles (2012, 2014, 2017, 2018)
Macedonian league: 13 titles (1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2015-19)
Macedonian cup: 13 titles