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Eastern Exposure


September 14, 2017




PGE Vive Kielce – A family affair

“He could be the best in the world!” That’s quite a statement made by Talant Dujshebaev.

He said it when I asked him about the talents of his son Alex around Easter, this year. Back then he didn’t know that Alex would play a crucial part in leading Vardar all the way, in the 2017 Champions League FINAL4, only a couple of months later.  I have no doubt that he would repeat the exact words now, probably with a big smile on his face.

Since then his son has moved up north and traded the uniform of Vardar for the one of Kielce, to be precise. He is one reason why Kielce, the winner of the EHF Champions League 2016, should be a prime candidate to qualify for the FINAL4 next year once again. Especially, after being eliminated by Montpellier in the first round of the knock-out stage this past season.

Another good reason why the Polish champion will return to Cologne is Blaz Janc. He has replaced German highflyer, Tobias Reichmann, who had a tremendous time in Kielce, where he almost won it all. I see the Slovenian left-hander as a hungry and ambitious fighter. He is not only talented, but also tall enough to occupy the right-back position, at least in certain situations. Although, Krzysztof Lijewski is still part of the team, Blanc offers another tactical dimension.

Speaking of Slovenians – Dean Bombac had a tough first year in Poland. While Talant Dujshebaev prefers a more disciplined style of handball, he needs to adapt, as Bombac is more of a free-style playmaker much like Ivano Balic used to be. Yes, you did not misread, I really said Talant has to adapt, because Bombac is at his best when he can rely on his instinct and dictate what’s happening on the pitch. He has to be free in making his decisions. And next summer Luka Cindric will join, a player who isn’t that much different.

The best thing about Kielce’s summer transfers? They got much younger. Dujshebaev is just 24 years old, while Janc still has to turn 21, and Marko Mamic, the Croatian left-back who came over from Dunkerque, is 23 years of age. Kielce is undergoing a big-time transformation on the highest possible level – quite impressive. The young players have proven talent already elsewhere and will make an immediate impact.

In the meantime, it will be Uros Zorman’s last season. He joined the club in 2011, even before the likes of Lijewski or Karol Bielecki, the sharp-shooting left-back. All of them are well into their 30s, and bring a ton of experience to the table. Some suggest that another “Oldie”, goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal, will retire in 2018, as well. So in some way it will a last hooray for Kielce’s old generation before a new one takes over.

All of it leads me to the conclusion that Kielce will be back to its former self, rather than the tired 2017 version. The older Polish players won’t carry the same emotional baggage, following a year 2016 that included a disastrous European championship on home soil, a stunning victory after staging a historic comeback at the Champions League FINAL4 and the Olympic games, all within only a few months. As we all know, fresh legs are extremely important come spring time.

Kielce is part of the tougher group, facing teams like Paris, Veszprem, Kiel and Flensburg. But they should be able to finish in the top three, avoiding Vardar, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Barcelona, at least until the quarterfinal. If Dujshebaev plays like he did in Skopje and Bombac becomes the magic man he used to be in Szeged, then I have no doubt that PGE Vive Kielce – as the team is called now after losing Tauron is a main sponsor – will return to Cologne after a one-year hiatus.

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Orlen Wisla Plock – No empty net

To me he is one of the most interesting coaches in handball, Piotr Przybecki. But the fact that he coaches Orlen Wisla Plock means not too many people will really take notice, at least outside of Poland. But his work at the club during last last season was so impressive that the federation decided, he would be the guy leading the national team back to glory after Talant Dujshebaev stepped down from his position.

But even a talented guy like Przybecki can’t do wonders. At least not all the time. He already did a heck of a job in 2016/17 when Wisla missed the knock-out stage by a hair, including two impressive draws against THW Kiel. But in goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales – he joined Paris Saint-Germain – Przybecki lost his best player, who kept Plock in the game when they were supposed to lose by a mile. It won’t be easy to replace the Spaniard, if not impossible.

Will Adem Borbely, the 22-year old Hungarian who came over from Veszprem be the solution between the pipes? I have my doubts, also with regards to the prospects of Adam Morawski, who is just a few months older than the newcomer. And Marcin Wichary, who is playing in Plock almost forever, is turning 38 years old in February. Well, to be honest, if these are the players to choose from, it won’t be easy to make up for the loss of Corrales, to say the least.

The net won’t be empty, unless Przybecki decides to attack with an additional player, but it may just feel that way once in a while. I don’t want to sound too harsh, but Plock got weaker on paper as well as on the court, because an outstanding goalkeeper can win games for you, and Corrales did it in the past. Barcelona, Vardar, Nantes, Szeged and Rhein-Neckar Löwen should easily occupy the first five places in the group, and that leaves only one spot for Plock, Zagreb or Kristianstad.

So who will be the guy making sure Plock will finish ahead of these two teams? Personally, I like the development of Gilberto Duarte, who left Portugal to join Plock in the summer of 2016. Portuguese handball has made a huge step forward in recent years and the left-back is being recognized more often not only because of his wild hair due, but also his performance on the pitch.

Unfortunately, at least from the coach’s point of view, he plays on the same position as 21-year old Tomasz Gebala, who came over from the youth academy of Germany’s SC Magdeburg last year as well. Przybecki will try to arrange as much time on the court as possible, for him to develop into a future star, but he still acts hasty at times and lacks experience.   At least that was my impression when I saw him represent Poland.

Plock has players from eight different nations on its roster, coming from all over Europe, and one of them from South America – right-back Jose De Toledo (Brazil). As a matter of fact, I can tell you that Polish is one of the toughest languages to learn, especially for people who have no connection to the country at all. So, I wonder how tough it will be for coach Przybecki to provide his players with the right instructions. It must be a mess at times, I’m sure.

As you can see I’m quite critical when it comes to Plock’s chances of advancing to the next stage. I have serious doubts, especially since the team didn’t sign any player who caught my eye. To finish sixth – the absolute minimum – everything needs to fall into place. They will require at least six points from the four matches against Zagreb and Kristianstad and playing in these arenas is no walk in the park. Which is why Kielce will be the only team having a good opportunity to make Poland proud in the 2017/18 Champions League campaign.

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