Nimes aiming to keep momentum going
USAM Nimes Gard won their last major trophy in the 1990s, so is there an end to this barren run in sight?
Well, while it could be somewhat premature to cast them as genuine contenders for the title, the club’s current trajectory does put them in the upper echelon of EHF European League Men teams.
So, what can we expect from the green and white of Nimes?
- the club will celebrate their 60th anniversary this season
- they are four-time national champions and three-time French cup winners
- had a 25-year hiatus from European cup competitions before their EHF Cup run last season
- their marquee signings include Michaël Guigou in 2019 and Vid Kavticnik in 2020
The burning question: What does life after Prandi look like?
2019/20 was going very smoothly for the French side: they were third behind Paris Saint-Germain and Nantes when the Starligue season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the international front, they were enjoying a solid EHF Cup campaign with two wins, a draw and only a narrow, one-goal loss, to Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
You can be certain that the French outfit will be chomping at the bit to get back on the court and attempt to reignite their good domestic and international form.
Last season there was one key figure for Nimes, and his name was on everyone’s lips: Elohim Prandi. The 22-year old was understandably snapped up by PSG Handball ahead of this season and his raw talent will be extremely hard to replace at left back.
How will Nimes attempt to work around not having such a versatile shooter, who can get you a goal from almost any situation?
That’s the big question.
But head coach, Franck Maurice, has signed the Frenchman Quentin Minel from HC Erlangen on a four-year deal.
Despite losing their star shooter, team captain and left wing Julien Rebichon isn’t lacking any confidence in his squad as it is at the moment: “We have a great side, which is able to beat any team; we have vast experience and players with incredible enthusiasm for the game. While we always respect our opponents, we are not afraid of anyone.”
Goal machine - Mohamed Sanad
The Egyptian international is a mainstay in the Starligue top scorers’ list. And with the departure of goal-hungry Elohim Prandi, Sanad’s role in the team will come under even more of a focus this season.
When the left wing joined Nimes, they had just finished 10th in the French League. From there they have improved each season since Sanad's arrival, finishing fifth in 2018/19 to make it to the EHF Cup and secure Nimes’ first appearance in European cup competition in 25 years.
But limelight didn’t get to Sanad, as in their six EHF Cup ties, he finished top scorer in four of them, amassing 49 goals, including qualification. When the EHF European League throws off, he will be looking to pick up where he left off.
The rock - Quentin Dupuy
He is the man pulling all the strings in defence. Between Dupuy setting up the centre block and Remi Desbonnet in goal, Nimes’ defence - when on form - can be formidable opposition for any side.
Dupuy’s defensive efforts last season in the Starligue saw him pick up a nomination for best defender for the 2019/2020 season.
It will be a big ask for Dupuy this season, making sure his defence is air-tight, week in, week out, in the EHF European League. If Nimes are to be a success this season, he is one character that will need to be in flying form.
Cool head - Michaël Guigou
It’s not often to get to throw the word ‘legend’ around, but Guigou is just that. At the grand age of 38 he has won it all. The two-time EHF Champions League winner, two-time Olympic gold medallist, three-time EHF EURO champion and four-time IHF World Championship winner – and the list goes on and on.
When his time with Montpellier came to a conclusion after 20 successful years, one would like to think that a graceful ride into the sunset was due. However, in 2019 he signed for Nimes, showing the fans the sheer drive he still has for the game. You cannot put a price on the value he brings to Nimes in terms of experience as well as having a cool head in those big moments.
With Vid Kavticnik now on the other side of the court, the club’s legend department is truly in good hands.
A season to remember
We have to go back to the EHF Champions League 1993/94 season to recollect on Nimes’ biggest European cup season. It was a team filled with the likes of Volle, Gardent, Medard, Stoecklin, Lathoud, Saracevic, Smajlajic, Gaudin, Portes and Chagnard. On club level, this squad was the French ‘dream team’ making up also the basis for ‘Les Barjots’ generation that won bronze for France in Barcelona in 1992.
In the eight-finals, they met SKA Minsk who they comfortably beat 31:15 and 26:22 to make it to the EHF Champions League group phase. Under the format at that time, there were two groups of four with the top two teams making it to the final. The green and white of Nimes came away two wins, three draws and one loss doing painfully missing out on reaching the final by just a single point.
Tragically, it was on the last match day when it went astray. The French side were top of Group A with a point to spare and had their final match against Sandefjord HK, who they had comfortably beaten 26:20 in their first tie.
The Norwegian side, however, had done their homework from their first away tie and proved to be a formidable match this time out winning the match 22:20.
It was ABC Braga who snatched the place in the final from them after their win over Badel 1862 Zagreb - but the Portuguese side lost the final to TEKA Santander.
For the French club, it will always be remembered as the season that ‘almost was.’
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Quentin Minel (HC Erlangen), Vid Kavticnik (Pays d’Aix). Tom Poyet (Valence)
Left the club: Elohim Prandi (PSG Handball), Steven George (Selestat), Hichem Kaabeche (unknown), Joze Baznik (Cesson Rennes), Aurelien Padolus (Sarrebourg)
EHF Champions League: Group phase (1): 1993/94
Cup Winners’ Cup: Last 32 (1): 1994/95
EHF Cup: Group phase (1): 2019/20
French league: 4 titles (1987/88, 1989/90, 1990/91, 1992/93)
French cup: 3 titles (1984/85, 1985/86, 1993/94)