Who is to take up the Vardar hot seat?
The news of Indira Kastratovic and Vardar split struck the handball world like a storm. What seemed to be a close-knit bunch until a few days ago, now remains in the balance.
They seamed ready to take on the challenges of the new Women’s EHF Champions League season by going back to basics with Indira as the sole tactician; however, the fortunes of the ‘destined-for-bronze’ team, now look uncertain.
At this point, everything is in the hands of the clubs newly installed sporting director and Russian handball legend Eduard Koksharov, who will also face a big test of his own – choosing a new coach.
Kastratovic has been at the club since 2012, and has led the Macedonian powerhouse to a trio of third-placed finishes at the Women’s EHF FINAL4.
The repeated result last term has been received with mixed responses from the fan base as well as people associated with the Skopje-based club.
However, with no official statement on what exactly prompted the club to lose patience with the coach of four years and seal Kastratovic’s faith; the lackluster 27:27 draw in front of the home fans in Skopje remains the most likely reason.
Vardar management has reacted upon the first warning sign by looking elsewhere. As soon as the word of Kastratovic’s split had surfaced, speculation came mounting of who will take the Vardar hot seat.
The opportunity to work under the very best conditions available, and with a plethora of talent at disposal does not come every day; therefore, some of the very best available names have been linked to fill the vacancy at Jane Sandanski.
The man for the job?
One of the first high-profile names to come across is the Slovenian coaching maestro Tone Tiselj.
Tiselj has vast coaching experience at the highest level, with the likes of Buducnost, Krim and Baia Mare. His methods have never been questioned, having won two Women’s EHF Champions League trophies (both with Krim in 2001 and 2003).
Furthermore, Tiselj’s high adaptability also makes him a favorable choice for the job. Known for his miraculous turn of Baia Mare’s fortunes -- from zero points at the start of the Main Round to a quarter-final berth -- and also being one of the very few coaches in the game to have proven himself as a top quality tactician with both men’s and women’s teams.
The 55-year old professor of physical education also lead both Celje and Gorenje to domestic championship titles, as well as the Slovenian men’s team to the silver medal at the EHF EURO 2004.
The understated choice
Not as high on Koksharov’s shortlist sits a rather peculiar choice.
Jota Gonzalez is considered among the best ASOBAL coaches in recent years, notable for his impressive work with the Spanish runners-up and VELUX EHF Champions League outfit Naturhouse La Rioja.
It is also worth mentioning, Jota’s more highly acclaimed sibling Raul Gonzalez is at the helm of Vardar’s men’s team.
With both disciples of the ‘Spanish school’, which bred the likes of Manolo Cadenas, Juan Carlos Pastor, and most recently Xavier Sabate -- all of whom have had good results away from Spain. May it be the time for a radical change in Skopje?
Furthermore, the addition of Jota Gonzalez, would remind everyone of the time when Zoran and Indira Kastratovic lead Vardar men and women.
However, with the knowledge and experience in place – can Jota successfully make the transition from men’s to women’s handball, which proved a stumbling block for many before him, this remains somewhat of a mystery.
A feminine touch?
With an already vast array of high profile names linked to replace Kastratovic, another fabled player-turn coach surfaced among the thereabouts to replace the legendary Kastratovic.
With Inna Suslina unready for such a big leap, so soon after finishing her career, the impressive curriculum vitae of an Austrian legend of Ukrainian origin Tatjana Logvin, has certainly caught the eye of the newly installed Vardar sports director Eduard Koksharov.
Logvin could be seen as the one to potentially achieve what Indira Kastratovic seemed destined for – becoming the first female to win the Women’s EHF Champions League both as a player and as a coach.
Logvin who has had some success at high-level coaching (most notably at the helm of Aalborg) is, however, still some way from matching her on-court skills with her tactical ability.
Furthermore, the approach would be similar to the failed attempt with Kastratovic.
David against Goliath once again
Whilst being a low-profile name in comparison to several others on the list, David Davis comes as perhaps the most natural and logical choice.
Davis and has learnt from the very best, having plied his trade as a disciple of Raul Gonzalez since their days at Valladolid, and his playing style is quite similar to his teacher’s.
Having the experience of working with Raul, may prove an added bonus as Vardar managing director stated upon hiring Davis last term - the men’s team should serve as the tactical model for the women.
Davis already has the experience of working with Vardar women, having been an advisor to Indira Kastratovic last season.
Furthermore, the players have been thrilled with Davis’ approach and improvements in a relatively short time; and many would relish the opportunity for the charismatic Spaniard to show all that he can do with Lekic and Co., this time on his own terms.
However, the choice is not entirely a one-horse race.
Even if Davis comes as the ideal person to take over in the eyes of Vardar management, he may have his own reservations regarding the job, as much as there may be Vardar’s reluctance to give a second chance to the coach who has never had first-team coaching experience, and have helped them take their third bronze place finish at the Women’s EHF FINAL4 last term.
But most importantly, taking over Vardar women would then most certainly mean Davis would have to leave Raul and the men’s team. Also, taking the helm of Vardar ladies at this point of his coaching career may also distract Davis from his real goal - coaching men at the highest level, maybe even taking over the baton from Raul Gonzalez one day.
Is it worth the risk, for both sides?
The decision day
The sands of time are running low for Vardar to make what is most likely the season-defining decision, as the match against Leipzig is scheduled for 21 October.
The club remains silent on who will replace Kastratovic on the bench, stating any information will be shared in the following days, and the club will announce further details on the next steps regarding the hiring of a new coach.
For the time being, the wealthy Macedonian giant remains in safekeeping of the current assistant coach Ace Stankovski, who will have the daunting task of steering the rocking boat, and prepare the team for the upcoming Group B matches with Leipzig (21 October) and Astrakhanochka (29 October).