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30.09.2016, 13:00◄ last page     

BLOG: In the second part of his blog Tom provides not only his own personal power ranking but also shares his thoughts on the upcoming duel of the two most successful clubs of the EHF Champions League history.

Clash of Kings in Barcelona

You know it wasn’t my intention to write a novel for my first blog, but I find I have a lot to say. How is that possible? I hear you all ask. You’re normally so quiet Tom.

Well you know during the entire summer, I and my colleagues in the EHF were debating how best to continue our cooperation. Experience has taught me one thing and that is to expect the unexpected.

So, you probably noticed that I wasn’t involved in any power rankings, I wrote no pieces, my twitter account (bar Olympics) has been relatively quiet, but in the back ground, waiting in the wings, I was watching the comings and goings, seeing who was where, who was in, who was out and of course drinking in the superb writing of Björn Pazen.

Every so often I even drifted off piste and read from other websites and blogs. Don’t tell my bosses please.

But through it all, I was putting together my own picture, my own thoughts. And for the record I totally disagree with the rankings published on the ehfCL.

Now I know that this “Power ranking” is an amalgamation of all the experts throughout Europe and they have their little biases. So the Hungarian guy is probably going to give Veszprem number 1 and Szeged number two and so on. The Balkan expert will bump Zagreb and Vardar a few points. Well you get the picture.

Kielce number one for me

Just remind me again, who made the FINAL4 last year.

Veszprem, Kiel, PSG and Kielce?

The Polish side are the champions. They are the ones everyone has to knock off the perch so they automatically get number 1 for me.

Why? Because they are number 1. Jurkiewicz is back, Bombac is the bomb and the Djukic boy on the right wing looks very tasty.

They have lost some, but they won without Buntic last FINAL4, and Zorman, albeit he has retired from Slovenia, looks the best in a long time. The karate kid Ivic takes the place of Sego and that is good business.

Veszprem: Well for god’s sake who did they not buy? With this team, they could enter another league somewhere else on the planet and still be left over with a world class team.

Their policy seems to be: “Buy everyone so that there is no one left for anyone else to buy.” Still they look formidable. The biggest issue for my pal “Sabate” is how you keep everyone happy. And we all know what happens to coaches when everyone wasn’t happy.

Snowballs chance in a microwave

Kiel: Top team, boasting Olympic champ GK and EURO champ GK. How can they possibly be considered as 10th place? Has the handball world gone completely crazy? Toft is back, missed all of last season. Wiencek came back and looks formidable. Legolas (sorry Nilsson) could be great.

Biggest mistake was letting Klein go, but they brought back Zeitzy and sometimes a hero is what the crowd need and those two players are steeped in the lore of Kiel.

PSG: Same as last year, but have offloaded some of the players not up to standard. They look lean, mean and the few buys are clever. Uwe, of course, and Nielsen from Berlin. Big boy, good defence player and strong on the line and Ante sold Stepancic.

Barcelona is always an outside chance of FINAL4 (more later in the blog).

Flensburg are a great team, with few changes, yet sit atop the German league and have to be considered an outside bet.

Szeged is impossible to rate because they are a completely new team so we have no point of reference, and Vardar maybe hasn’t strengthened enough in key areas.

Apart from the teams mentioned there is no one else I would give a snowballs chance in a microwave to be there or there abouts at the end of the season. I suppose a top ten has to have ten teams, but these six would be at the top for me.

So there are my six teams, five of which are going to bloody each others’ noses in group A, while Kielce waits in the long grass again. Much as they did last year. Only they and Barcelona of my top picks have nothing else to discourage or take their attention away from the big prize. All the others will fight it out in SEHA, German league etc.

Panic buying

So on to MOTW this week in the Palau Blaugrana. Barcelona has enough left backs to populate a small Caribbean island and Kiel right backs would be their neighbours. But other than that, the panic buying of last season seems to be over for both clubs.

Barcelona had tried to replace Karabatic with everyone and it didn’t work, so they’ve trimmed down a little. I’m surprised Gurbindo is gone. He was the cement that gelled the back court at times, but we will have to see how the Frenchman Mem does.

Sorry did I call him a man. He’s big and strong, but he’s still a boy. 19 years of age screams potential, but that’s not the finished product. Lasse Andersson from KIF has shown how good he is since he broke onto our radars in a match with Dunkerque many years ago. Tried and tested he will need a little support from another Dane.

Noddesbo is a veteran of Barca and can help the boy along. Let’s not forget how Hansen, didn’t quite make the grade at Barca for whatever reason.

So on entering a big club, with big traditions, you must also be a big leader, a big personality. He’s fighting with Jallouz, Jicha and N’Guessan (another very good buy) for a starting berth.

Victor as captain was quiet by his standards last year, but the arrival of a new baby boy seems to have energised him and having watched him this season, he looks very good again. Entrerrios is still one of the best centres. Sorhaindo is a class act and Perez de Vargas looks brilliant again.

Throw in the hundred or so goals that Lazarov will get and well, you see my point.

Bee’s knees and the cat’s pyjamas

Kiel’s panic buying of last season was borne of a different necessity. Injury and more injury plagued them all the way. They have trimmed as well and bought potentially good players.

But we don’t know until they have played consistently well over a sustained period. Bilyk and Raul Santos have come and so has the “Wolfman”.

This guy is the bee’s knees and the cat’s pyjamas (interestingly Kiel replaced a cat with a wolf) Rene Toft looks strong and has a gold medal weighing him down.

Duvnjak is there, Weinhold looks incredible, Dissinger will be back and Paddy Wiencek is such a man that he can play even when his finger pops out of its joint. Landin won the Olympics!!!!!! 10th place is all that gets you on a power ranking. It’s like “Bohemian Rhapsody” getting knocked off the top of the charts by “Bob the Builder”.

Are these two teams in transition? Yes and no. Teams are always in transition. Have they the mix of youth and experience? Yes, and every coach will tell you that it’s the perfect blend. And do these two teams have a home court that puts butterflies in the stomachs of all opposition? Yes they do!

Add to that their tradition, their philosophy of play and their great coaches and these two teams will always be in the mix come the end of the season.

And we only have to look at last season’s two games in the last eight to realise that there is something special when they play each other.

Money, best players and luck

Someone asked me once why the big teams always get to the end of a competition. Money, best players are two of the reasons. But the other is luck.

But it is luck borne out of knowing that they will get a few more decisions than the “lesser” teams. It happens in every sport. If it might be 4 steps, or it might be a penalty, if the chips are down they will get the luck and that propels them constantly towards the latter stages of all competitions.

This game may not be the be all and end all of the season for these two teams. It is after all only two points and “bragging” rights, but players like Tomas, Jicha, Lazarov, Zeitz, Lackovic, Sprenger and all the over 30s know the value psychologically of defeating your biggest foes.

Because when we use the term experience, we really mean age and as a sportsman, when you start to see a 3 at the start of your age, you know that dreaded day when you must hang up your jersey for the last time is inching closer and closer.

Because “Time and tide wait for no man” and the fact that these two teams are bulking up on younger players shows that time will eventually be called on all careers. The “twenty-somethings” don’t feel it yet. But the drive and hunger will be in the legs of the “experienced” players. They will want to show the world how important they still are.

And we will be there to witness the “Clash of Kings”. The boys from the North will visit the South and history, tradition and a chance to add to their respective wins in the first round means this one is a worthy choice for MOTW.

Read the first part of Tom's blog here

TEXT: ehfTV commentator Tom O' Brannagain

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