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23.06.2016, 10:10◄ last page     

LAST WEEK IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Veszprem dominate the headlines with big moves, while PSG look to the future with Sagosen signature

Who said it is now or never? Veszprem prepare another title push

The first part of the weekly summer roundup takes us to the familiar surroundings of the Balaton-based town with a big team and an even bigger heart. Veszprem rose from the ashes of their tragic VELUX EHF FINAL4 defeat, more determined than ever to prove they are worthy enough to bring the elusive trophy home in their next attempt.

Xavier Sabate’s squad has largely remained unchanged, however, is boosted by several quality acquisitions and an ambitious, hands-on sporting director to bring the clubs onto bigger and better things in the future. Furthermore, the man behind their meteoric rise atop the men’s handball scene Gabor Kalomista, will remain the club’s president.

Legendary Hungarian playmaker Nikola Eklemovic became the sports director of Veszprem. Eklemovic was seen as the right person to bring success to the club he spent nine seasons at as a player. The spot was previously vacant, since the long-serving club director Csaba Hajnal stepped down mid-season.

Belgrade-born Eklemovic started his professional career with RK Partizan and RK Crvena Zvezda. He earned 14 caps for the Serbian national team, but made his name playing for Hungary; scoring 80 goals in 32 matches.

Eklemovic represented both Hungarian rivals and two biggest clubs – Pick Szeged (1999 to 2004) as well as Veszprem (from 2004 to 2011) where he scored 422 goals in 170 matches.  Eklemovic finished his playing career in 2015 at HCM Baia Mare.

Eklemovic’s first actions at the helm of Telekom Veszprem signalled a sign of things to come, as the Serbian-born is certainly looking to adopt a hands-on approach in running the Hungarian powerhouse.

Veszprem have already announced some reinforcements for the next season, however, Eklemovic’s first foray into the transfer market was an unequivocal statement of intent, as the club acquired the signatures to Marko Kopljar and Dragan Gajic to bolster their formidably talented right side, already boasting the likes of Laszlo Nagy, Gasper Marguc, Peter Gulyas as well as the newbie Gabor Ancsin.

“Telekom Veszprém are building the world’s most powerful right side. Gasper Marguc, Dragan Gajic and Péter Gulyás are the right-wings and László Nagy, Marko Kopljar and Gábor Ancsin are the right backs for the next season,” said Eklemovic.

The transfer swoop was a bit of a shocker to the handball pubic, especially as there was previously no speculation regarding the moves.

Dragan Gajic enjoyed the adulation of the fans at Montpellier following six seasons the prolific right wing has spent at the French club. Gajo has already achieved a legend-like status in in France scoring 736 goals in 114 matches for Montpellier.

The flamboyant Slovenian also won six league titles with his boyhood club Celje and will bring flair and goal-scoring prowess to the Veszprem side, along with his 15-season long VELUX EHF Champions League experience.

Along with his on-court skills, Veszprem fans will relish the 31-year-old’s social media presence, as well.

Croatian national team captain Marko Kopljar has joined the VELUX EHF Champions League finalists after a season of mixed success in Barcelona, after his contract was cut short.

Kopljar scored 45 goals in 21 Spanish league matches, while managing 12 goals from 13 matches in the VELUX EHF Champions League. The 2.10 metre right back did not blend well at Blaugrana, mostly battling with injuries and lack of form after joining from PSG last summer.

Kopljar boasts an impressive record of four bronze and two silver medals with Croatia (124 caps), however, his clubs success is yet to follow having come as close as the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final for four seasons in a row, with three different clubs (Zagreb, PSG and Barcelona).

It will surely take little to no time for Marko to adapt to life at Veszprem, aided by his compatriots Ivan Sliskovic, Mirko Alilovic and Renato Sulic, who have already become integral to Xavier Sabate’s setup.

Veszprem director Nikola Eklemovic thinks the time is just right for Kopljar, and backs the towering to shine in Veszprem Arena next season.

“Marko came here very happy to join us. He is beaming with strength and confidence and has his best years ahead of him. But, not only will our right side be powerful; we have Aron Palmarsson, Chema Rodriguez and Mate Lekai as playmakers, while Momir Ilic and Ivan Sliskovic are our left backs.”

Sagosen PSG bound, Barcelona and Vardar invest in firepower

Judging by the transfer activity alone, next season is going to be a cracking one.

Europe’s finest continue to surprise with more inspired signings this week as well. As Kielce felt the taste of success, the Polish champions are already plotting to extend their VELUX EHF Champions League reign, while Veszprem are rallying troop ahead of the new title challenge.

However, the not-so-fortunate ones, namely, Vardar and the nine-time champions Barcelona plot their comeback.

Vardar are yet to experience the VELUX EHF FINAL4, while Barcelona faced an early elimination last season; as both teams in need to make amends, is there a better way of doing so than adding more firepower to your arsenal?

Barcelona went for youth in contrast to Kiril Lazarov’s experience, following the departures of two big-name right backs Marko Kopljar and Eduardo Gurbindo. The Blaugrana’s newest acquisition is the 19-year old Dika Mem.

The former Tremblay sharpshooter and one of the most talented player of his generation, Mem has enjoyed a successful individual season in France, becoming the team’s third best scorer, despite being among the youngest in the team.

However, despite his team’s relegation, Mem’s performances caught the eye of Xavi Pascual and the athletic Frenchman will continue his handball journey at Palau Blaugrana alongside fellow countryman Cedric Sorhaindo, who has just recently extended his contract.

Vardar’s backcourt prowess has been bolstered by the addition the forceful Montenegrin Vuko Borozan.

22-year-old Cetinje-born Borozan will make his return to Skopje after two seasons away, having been a disciple of Lino Cervar at Metalurg, before impressing in the German Bundesliga for TuS N-Lübbecke.

With his 203 cm, 105-kg frame Borozan will add formidable force to Vardar’s backcourt at both ends, ready to be paired with the likes of Igor Karacic, Luka Cindric, as well as Joan Canellas, who has already joined the Skopje-based club.

“Despite other offers, I have only considered the one coming from Skopje. Vardar is one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I have many friends in Skopje.

“Working with the coach Raul Gonzalez will be a great pleasure for me, as I’ve heard many nice things about him. Vardar perfectly matches my ambition.

“They are a great club, and I would like to win it all with them. I can’t wait for my duties to begin, and I’m very eager to play in front of the best fans in Europe,” said Borozan. 

Yet another transfer to shake the handball world this summer was news that Sander Sagosen will move to PSG in 2017. The 20-year-old will play another season at Aalborg before making the move.

The EHF EURO 2016 All-Star centre back was a hot property and clubs like Barcelona, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Kielce had expressed interest.  Yet, Sagosen opted for PSG to complete his dream move.

Sagosen will now be able to follow the footsteps of another Scandinavian star Mikkel Hansen, who has had a magnificent season in Paris last term. Sagosen’s girlfriend Hanna Bredal Oftedal is currently at Issy Paris and if she remains there next season, the handball couple will be reunited in the “city of love”.

Summer loving

Speaking of love, congratulations to THW Kiel's Joan Canellas, who celebrated his marriage to Patricia, and former Champions League star Iker Romero, who married German national team player Laura Steinbach.

TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cor

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