Top signings and a clear goal: winning titles
SG Flensburg-Handewitt is the only men’s club with four different European Cup trophies. They won the EHF Cup in 1997, the EHF City Cup in 1999, the Cup Winners’ Cup in 2001 and 2012, and topped it all off by winning the EHF Champions League in 2014, as debutants at the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.
It was Flensburg’s dream to return to Cologne, but they have so far failed. As in the 2022/23 season, Flensburg compete this year in the EHF European League Men. In May, the club hosted the EHF Finals in their Campushalle, but due to losing the second leg of the quarter-finals 27:35 at home to Fraikin BM. Granollers, the hosts failed to be part of the event.
Some days later, Flensburg parted ways with coach Maik Machulla. His successor arrived from just across the border, along with players Simon Pytlick and Lukas Jørgensen; Nicolej Krickau joined SG from Danish champions and last season’s Machineseeker EHF Champions League quarter-finalists GOG.
“After winning the double – league and cup – in Denmark, it was the perfect timing to fulfil my dream of coaching a German club,” says Krickau. Besides his handball tasks, the 36-year-old Dane is doing his best to pick up German quickly – the aim is that the current mix of German, English and Danish in the training sessions will only be an interim solution.
“No pre-season training session was shorter than two hours, we focus a lot on high-speed handball, and it is exciting to see how the new coach and the team fit together day by day,” says team captain Johannes Golla, who has new neighbours’ in the centre defence block: Blaz Blagotinsek and Lukas Jørgensen.
“It’s a challenge to get this blind understanding that you know exactly what the others are doing, but it’s already looking quite good,” Golla adds.
Former Telekom Veszprém star Blagotinsek, who arrived from Frisch Auf Göppingen, replaces Dane Simon Hald, who joined Champions League participant Aalborg Håndbold. The Norwegians Magnus Rød and Gøran Johannessen transferred from Flensburg to Champions League debutants Kolstad.
Besides Blagotinsek and the GOG duo, Pytlick and Jørgensen, a freshly crowned EHF Champions League winner arrived at Flensburg: Dutch right back Kay Smits.
“I fit quite well in Krickau’s and Flensburg’s playing system. Though my summer break was quite short, and I was not at 100 per cent, the start was good,” says Smits.
He adds he has a specific goal for the year: “I want to win three titles this season in the Bundesliga, German Cup and European League.”
Smits’ sister Inger achieved that rare treble already in 2022, with her German club SG BBM Bietigheim.
Having Pytlick, the first ever player of the season at the EHF Excellence Awards 2023, and Smits as new arrivals, the back court axis including EHF EURO 2018 and 2022 MVP Jim Gottfridsson looks like the best ever in the club’s history. The goalkeeper duo of Kevin Møller and Benjamin Buric has remained the same, alongside Danish wings Johan Hansen and Emil Jakobsen.
“It is too early to say whether we are already better than in the last season. But I am sure we can play better. What we definitely need is more constancy in all our games. We are looking forward to adding some silverware to our cabinet,” says team captain Golla.
Flensburg’s last trophy dates back to 2019, when they became German champions.
“I came to Flensburg to win titles, and our squads looks like we can do it,” says left back and world champion Pytlick.
In group E of the EHF European League, Flensburg will face sides which have proven themselves in the Champions League, such as Swiss champions Kadetten Schaffhausen and Elverum Handball from Norway. HC Lovcen-Cetinje from Montenegro seem like the underdog in this group.
In the Bundesliga, Flensburg took a lucky win in the 109th northern derby against their arch-rivals THW Kiel, but were defeated by EHF Champions League winners SC Magdeburg already.
The path to that fifth European title will not be easy, but Flensburg have plenty of motivation to steer them along it.
Photos © Ingrid Anderson-Jensen