INTERVIEW: Per Johansson is CSM’s man of the hour, as the Swedish coach ushered the title holders back into form after an underwhelming 2016/17 campaign – just in time.
A man on a mission
It is impossible not to take any risks and still be rewarded in the Women’s EHF Champions League however, there are few teams that could be as bold as CSM Bucuresti.
Maybe CSM are brimming confidence because they are the title holders and are truly confident that any gamble will pay off. But changing coach only one week before the most important matches of the season – the quarter-finals against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria – is a decision that could easily have backfired.
Instead, Per Johansson was welcomed by CSM’s players and the Romanian side secured the right to defend their title at the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 on the first weekend of May.
But who is Per Johansson, the mastermind behind CSM’s resurgence?
He is a coach who has not worked with a high-level outfit for almost five years, but rejuvenated the Romanian side, found their team spirit and led them to two comfortable wins against their Hungarian opponents.
He is also a man of his word. When he took the helm at CSM, Johansson was already under contract with a second-tier team in Sweden, Kungälvs. After CSM won against FTC, Johansson went directly to coach Kungälvs in the play-offs, but they lost both games against Skane by a one-goal margin. “It did not matter, I was extremely proud of what they managed,” says Johansson.
The Swedish ace will leave CSM at the end of the season, as he had already agreed to a deal with Boden Handboll IF, a first league Swedish team, while Helle Thomsen will take the hot seat at CSM.
ehfCL.com: You were already coaching when CSM came knocking, so why did you accept their offer?
Per Johansson: It was a different part to play for me. In Sweden, it was a team in the second division, but with CSM’s offer, I did not blink twice in accepting it. It took a little over two days to pack my bags, sign with them and go to Bucharest.
We are talking about the title holders in the EHF Women’s Champions League, it is one of the best clubs in the world. It is an unbelievable pressure to be their coach, but as a coach, you are looking for that pressure.
Maybe we are damaged, but you miss the adrenaline rush in such a high-profile job. The things I experienced in Bucharest’s hall were amazing and helped me a lot.
ehfCL: It was a big risk. How did you find the team and what did you tell them during the first days?
Per Johansson: I had one chance and it was important for me. I was very prepared, but the girls helped me a lot. There were no prima donnas, no bad energy, they made my job easier.
I think we had a good first meeting, when we started to practice. We worked round the clock for the game against FTC and of course this is difficult, it is not a national team. The first game was trickier, mentally, because I did not know how the girls would cope with this kind of pressure.
I said to them: From me they will get an experienced coach, I will have a big heart, I am not working with any fear, I believe in the cooperation between players and coach.
ehfCL.com: Last year, CSM took everyone by storm and won the title after they were overlooked by many. Do you think you are the favourites now?
Per Johansson: It’s maybe silly to say, but we see ourselves as a really big underdog this season too because we also had a bumpy ride like in the previous year, facing a do-or-die game against Rostov even in the group phase.
There were many coaching changes, but now I think that the team has settled. If I were to look for an x-factor for us, maybe it is the team spirit. We are trying hard right now to come up with some new things now, be a more solid team.
ehfCL.com: CSM will once again face Vardar for a chance to win it all. Is it a good draw for your team?
Per Johansson: I am not happy or unhappy with the draw, but I think Vardar are the favourites to win the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 because on paper they have the best players.
I have seen Vardar and analyzed their game for many hours in the last week. They have two similarly good players in each position, they have really good depth at this level.
Moreover, they have these diamonds in Lekic, Damjanovic, Penezic and Herrem or Radicevic. Their roster is also filled with three good goalkeepers. Therefore, we will have to pay a lot of attention. If you give them a finger, they will take your whole hand.
ehfCL.com: You said CSM are the underdogs, but what is CSM’s main advantage at the business end of the competition?
Per Johansson: My team is the most experienced team in the competition and I am happy with that. I think that this is the most important advantage you can get right now.
They played finals both at the club level and the national team level. They won several, lost a few, but that is very important. I played a EHF EURO final and lost. That experience was very important for me, it helped me grow as a person and as a coach.
ehfCL.com: What is your dream for Budapest?
Per Johansson: If you take it to the extreme, of course the dream is to be playing the final against Györ on their home court. Of course, the dream would be better if we win against Györ.
ehfCL.com: A prediction for the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4?
Per Johansson: CSM will win the semi-final and also the final, without any emotions.
I’m joking – it is very hard to defend the title, but we have a very good team, with very good players. But while having a very good team is very important, you also need a little bit of luck. Hopefully, we will have it. It would be amazing.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg