|01.05.2017, 20:00||◄ last page|
FEATURE: The Romanian superstar finds herself back on top in pursuit of her second title, dealing with the role of mentor and looking ahead to her homecoming next season
Neagu: an inspiration, a role model, a mentor
Four years ago, the Romanian left back’s career was nothing short of over after another injury setback. After winning the IHF World Handball Player of the Year award in 2010, Neagu was aiming high, but subsequent injuries to her right shoulder and knee left her career in disarray.
Fast forward four years and Neagu is now on top of the world. Her sheer ambition, will and grit have powered her directly back to the top. She won the Women ’ s EHF Champions League in 2015, a bronze medal at the World Championship in 2015 and has been the World Handball Player of the Year both in 2015 and 2016.
All the help she needed
Right now, Neagu is the player to watch in women’s handball. A unique combination of power and creativity transformed the Romanian star into a dual threat that is a nightmare to defend against. A role model by definition, both on and off the court, the left back highlights her early time in Buducnost as the catalyst for her comeback.
“When I signed with Buducnost in 2013, I was not ready to get back on court due to my knee injury. But they helped me a lot. They gave me time and all the support I needed. I went to all the away games with the team and that helped me settle in.
“From the start, I knew Buducnost was a team I wanted to spend some serious time with. The team grew on me quickly and the reception I got was amazing,” said Neagu.
A role model on the court
Neagu had already lost two WOMEN'S EHF Champions League finals before she managed to win the trophy with Buducnost in 2015, stating that she couldn’t have been happier when she finally raised the trophy. The Romanian star also clinched the top goal scorer spot and Buducnost were looking more powerful and scarier than ever.
However, the Montenegrin team ended a cycle and needed a breath of fresh air. Enter Cristina Neagu, the mentor. Several young players have been ushered into the first team ranks, therefore, Neagu had the tough mission of leading the team on the court and helping the youngsters settle into the side.
Players like Djurdjina Jaukovic, Vanesa Agovic or Matea Pletikosic will surely remember Neagu as a huge influence on their early careers.
“It is not easy to make your breakthrough into a team like Buducnost, with such experienced players in their ranks. I mean, they did not find it easy, I felt like they were holding back on requesting help at first, I am sure that they were shy when it came to asking for advice.
“I am their teammate and I do not want for them to see me as a 'wow' factor, it is pointless for them to watch me train like that. We are trying to help them integrate,” added Neagu, who inadvertently becomes a role model for any youngster trying to break through the ranks.
Neagu-mania in Romania
Hundreds of Romanian fans flock in her direction every time the national team plays at home, as well as the Montenegrin ones after the Buducnost games; Neagu often extends her stay well after the end of the game, sometimes up to two hours and beyond to sign autographs and take pictures.
In a country where the sport was near rock bottom, the 28-year-old superstar is a breath of fresh air and a symbol of how talent and hard work can help you achieve greatness.
The Neagu-mania will surely be even greater in Romania, when the left back will step onto court for CSM Bucuresti, a club with which she has signed a two-year contract starting next summer.
Expect packed halls all over the country, with the marquee signing already being advertised by CSM, who are seriously looking like the team to beat for the next two seasons.
Neagu has already stated that coming back to Romania, especially to her home city, was a plan for a long time and it was the thing to do, even if she had serious offers from all the European powerhouses.
In a country that branded handball as “national sport” Neagu’s comeback will surely be on the front page of the newspapers and on loop on all the sports channels.
But the Romanian star is still down to earth and hopes to be more than an influencer, rather a trophy chaser.
“I am overwhelmed by the number of messages I get on social media. Parents and even kids tell me that I am a role model and many of them are taking up handball because of me.
“I think that being a role model is important and being in this position is everything I dreamed of. I am happy that many kids are saying that they want to be like Neagu. It is very satisfying,” concludes the Romanian superstar.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu/si