Now it’s official, one of the most interesting and most successful figures in handball – Dagur Sigurdsson – will leave the German national team after the upcoming World championship in France. He used an opt-out clause in his contract as the federation announced in a press release early Tuesday morning. For those familiar with the situation it’s hardly stunning, for many others it might be a shock, because the Icelandic coach is heading to Japan.
Arguably, he is leaving the national team with the most upside and the best young talent; coming off a first-place finish at the European championship and a Bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. It must have been a tough decision for Sigurdsson. He cited personal reasons for his move. I always praised him as somebody who’s different and definitely not greedy, although reports suggest he will earn up to 5 (?!) million Euros in Nippon. If true, that’s hard to reject. Who can actually blame him?
Soon, he will take over a Japanese side which finished 3rd in the recent Asian championship and is far away from competing internationally. But as you might have heard, Sigurdsson played in Japan for three seasons during his active career – he loves the culture and he also loves challenges. Japanese people are known to be very proud. Therefore, I don’t expect them to pay for mercenaries just like Qatar did prior to the 2015 World championship. Considering these circumstances that’s what I call a real challenge.
Usually, Sigurdsson always has a plan. He will have about three and a half years to introduce his style, and his vision of handball. And he will have to do a lot of teaching and scouting. I can imagine that Japan will improve drastically prior to the Tokyo games in 2020 thanks to his superior knowledge and immense understanding of the game. Winning a medal with the Asians – as unlikely as it seems at the moment – would probably be his biggest accomplishment ever.
For the German handball federation, Sigurdsson’s decision is a huge blow, but it would be even harder if he had never coached Germany’s “Bad Boys”. He made sure that the people within the federation would accept new rules, different thinking and maybe some crazy ideas. The communication between the national team coach and the DKB Handball-Bundesliga has never been better. Sigurdsson also brought self-confidence back to the biggest handball nation in the world.
He will be missed, no doubt about it. But, fortunately, there has been a change of philosophy in coaching in Germany. The prime candidate to succeed Sigurdsson, Leipzig’s Christian Prokop, is the perfect example. Prokop, a former player under Bob Hanning – the “mighty mouse” in Germany’s handball federation – is just 37 years old and would have coached just two full seasons in the first league, in case he takes over next summer.
Personally, I think that there are no young or old coaches out there, just good or bad one’s. Prokop loves to work with younger, less known players – a very important point. As a player, he had to retire early because of physical problems. Just like Sigurdsson, he started to get into coaching at a very young age. He was a playmaker, just like the Icelander – another interesting similarity between the two. If I had a say, then Prokop would be my first choice.
The main issue: He just extended his contract at Leipzig until 2021, days before it became public that Sigurdsson will leave the DHB. Prokop has already stated that coaching the national team is the highest honor a coach can get. Meanwhile, fans of Leipzig are trying to convince him to stay. I guess it’s all about Leipzig finding a replacement for Prokop. The club seems to have settled in the Bundesliga and has a strong network thanks to German handball legend Stefan Kretzschmar.
So, “Kretzsche”, please be so kind and hurry up, because it would be a shame if the biggest handball federation had to introduce somebody who’s second choice. It would be a bad start for anybody who will follow into the footsteps of the guy who saved German handball. While Japan will soon say “Konnichiwa Dagur”, DHB officials will, hopefully, avoid a major mistake and say “Willkommen Christian” in the near future.