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29.10.2016, 08:00◄ last page     

AROUND THE WORLD: The combination of three Iranian players and a Romanian team is surely one to watch, but nobody could believe the adjustment period would be so unchallenging

Unlikely Iranian-Romanian combination paying dividends

“Ambition, grit and a lot of hard work, these are the ingredients you would want in a handball player. Many are born like this and I think all of our Iranian players have them naturally instilled.”

Dinamo Bucuresti, the Romanian champions, took a big risk last summer, when they signed two Iranian players, the Esteki brothers. Alongside Alireza Seyed Mousavi, the three players are now an integral part of the Romanian side, with Sajad Esteki already earning plaudits after scoring 28 goals in his first five matches.

Discovering the potential

There are exactly 3260 kilometers on the road between Esfahan, the place where Alireza Seyed Mousavi and the Esteki brothers, Sajan and Allahkaram, were born and Bucuresti, the Romanian capital, where the three Iranian players are currently plying their trade with Dinamo.

The connection, once unthinkable for a Romanian club, has been made possible by the soaring popularity of handball in Iran as “Team Melli” has qualified for the first time in their history for the World Championship in 2015, finishing 21st.

Therefore, the players were there to be seen, with their sheer quality and raw potential waiting to be discovered by the European clubs.

“I know that it may seem that these are exotic transfers. But once you break it down, there is little surprise about why we managed to have three Iranian players in our roster.”

“Alireza was the first one and adapted very well, after stints at Veszprem and Tatabanya, so, naturally, we extended our scouting to other players.”

“We knew the Esteki brothers were very good players and we were very happy to pull off such a coup. I personally did not expect them to play so well after such little period of time, but I am happy to coach them, because they are fantastic players,” said Eliodor Voica, Dinamo’s coach.

Natural-born goalscorers

“The higher the risk taken, the greater the reward,” is a motto that should be known by heart by Dinamo’s management. The Romanian champions surely did their homework before offering contracts to the Esteki brothers, who did not enjoy good spells at Montpellier and Stuttgart.

Four months later, it is hard to imagine Dinamo without the Esteki brothers, as the two Iranian backs have scored 45 of the Romanian side’s 151 goals in the VELUX EHF Champions League, or a whooping 29.8 per cent. A defensive specialist, Mousavi has not received much playing time in attack, but he already scored seven goals, contributing in every game, except the draw against Holstebro, with at least one goal.

“Their adjustment period has been eased by the fact that they are not alone, they can rely on each other. They fit in perfectly, they like to joke, they are friendly with their teammates, I think everything is going as smoothly as possible,” said Voica.

“Handball is becoming more and more popular”

In a football-mad country, handball is slowly getting its share of popularity, mainly thanks to the men’s national team achievements. With a main core of domestic-based players, the growth would likely be slower if not for the European contingent, represented by the Esteki brothers and Mousavi.

“I think my brother, Allahkaram, is responsible for my handball career. Being the older one, he started playing handball before I did and I kind of followed in his footsteps. We started small, in our school, but two or three years later we became more focused and continued at a local club.”

“Handball is starting to get more popular in Iran, but people are still favouring football,” says Sajad Esteki.

“I was 10 when I started handball, after trying football and basketball. Somehow, I knew this was the best sport for me,” added Allahkaram Esteki.

No language barrier

The clash of civilizations was one of the main problems that was expected, but the language and food barrier and the hectic nature of Bucuresti were quickly overcame and the three Iranians were assimilated by their teammates.

“We already knew a bit of English, so that helped a lot. I think it is best if we learn Romanian, because it would be easier. Alireza knows some words and we learnt them from him. The language problem is the biggest one, but we understand our teammates and they understand us,” said Sajad Esteki.

“There are no problems regarding the food, maybe the traffic is a bit of a problem, but it is nothing we cannot overcome. We are three Iranian players here and this was a huge relief for us,” added his brother, Allahkaram.

Enjoying their time in the VELUX EHF Champions League

Playing in the VELUX EHF Champions League was a dream came true and a huge motivation for the players. While Allahkaram Esteki had already scored 17 goals for Montpellier HB last season and Mousavi had been selected in Veszprem’s roster, Sajad Esteki’s maiden season is easily the most impressive.

The 26-year old left back scored 28 goals in his first five matches, including a personal-best 12 goals in Dinamo’s defeat against ABC/UMinho, as his heroics earned him the accolade of the Player of Round 4.

“I thought that he could become an integral part of our team, but I never expected him to play so well from the start,” admitted Voica.

But Esteki is living the dream at high pace: “Playing in Europe’s top club competition means the world to me. The level is so high here, every game is an amazing one.

“Unfortunately, we drew two games we should have won, while the game against Nantes was the most painful one until now. However, we did not lose by more than two goals, so I think we are competitive.”

“Personally, I want to help my team earn as many points as I can and enjoy these type of games. With a change in our luck, maybe we can even progress to the next phase,” concluded the left back.

Living the moment in the European top flight

Both Alireza and Allahkaram have already played for European powerhouses like Veszprem and Montpellier. While the older Esteki brother is 26, both Sajad and Mousavi are only 24 and all have a lengthy career ahead of them.

But, in his opinion, there is no reason to rush, as his recent performances have been surely noted.

“There is nobody I would like to play for more than Dinamo right now. I do not think, or best said, I do not obsess over my future. Now I play in Dinamo, I like to live here, it gives me comfort and I hope I can improve in the next matches,” concluded Sajad Esteki.

His brother, Allahkaram, shares his views: “I really like to live in the moment and I enjoy Dinamo right now. Whether I like a team in the VELUX EHF Champions League? Well, let’s say that I enjoy watching FC Barcelona Lassa.”

If the Esteki brothers are to join Barcelona in the near future is impossible to tell. What is sure, however, is that one of the most unlikely “player-team” combinations in the competition has been slowly reaping results.

The language barrier, a change in culture and a totally new country have been overcome by the three Iranians who have become an important piece in Dinamo’s roster and now there is no stopping them.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cor

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