Henk Groener + “Die Ladies”

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OPINION – Michael Biegler has done well – some would say surprisingly well – during his short spell at the helm of Germany’s women national handball team.  The arrival of Henk Groener after the World Championship has been great news and most importantly, he may bring continuity, an quality that has been eluding Germany´s national squad for so long.

By Peter Bruun

The signing of Henk Groener as new coach of the women´s national team looks like a real scoop of the German Handball Federation (DHB).

It certainly will, if the 57-year-old Dutchmen can repeat his accomplishments with the Dutch national crew, in Germany.

The hope for Germany’s women is that Groener’s arrival will put an end to changing national team coaches every other year, a condition all but not good for continuity.

I probably was not the only one who was surprised when Michael Biegler was appointed national coach in early spring of 2016.  Was “Beagle” – who had never coached women before during his 31 year long career – really up for the job?

At the time it appeared as if Biegler was a desperation move as other top women coaches were not available. DHB had an urgent need and he was available.

Unlike many others federations and clubs, the German handball federation has not been fortunate with Danish coaches.

Heine Jensen was sacked after a disappointing EURO 2014, when he no longer had the support of the players.  And his successor, Jakob Vestergaard, did not have any more luck either. When Germany was knocked out at the 2015 World Championship in the Round of Last 16, he and DHB “agreed” that Vestergaard should look for another job.

At the same time, Biegler stepped down as Polish national coach, taking full responsibility for a disastrous 2016 European championship on home soil, where Poland finished seventh, after a humiliating double digit defeat against Croatia despite the support of 15,000 frenetic supporters in Krakow’s Tauron Arena.

Growing with the task

While Biegler had a sad ending to his Polish adventure, he certainly was no failure during his tenure as Poland’s head coach.  Winning the bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship in Qatar was an achievement above expectations.

But many experts were skeptical ahead of “Beagle´s” debut coaching women. However, during his 18+ months on the job, he has proven most of his critics wrong.

Given the players he has at his disposal, Michael Biegler has achieved some meaningful results.

A sixth place at EURO 2016 after a one-goal defeat against Romania must be characterized as acceptable. It could have easily turned out differently but a main round draw against Spain, proved to be costly. In any event, Biegler has formed a confident and harmonious German squad once again.

Michael Biegler grew with the task, and he grew fast.  This does not mean that Henk Groener will have to fill big footsteps – at least not yet.

Unless Biegler leads Germany to a top spot at the upcoming World Championship on home ground – participation in the semi-final is the declared goal – his successor will not have much to live up to.

High expectations

Much pressure will be resting on Groener´s shoulders from day one.  Such expectations are justified and inevitable, when considering the results he had with the Dutch women.

Henk Groener was the coach who raised The Netherlands´ women handball team from anonymity to the top of the handball world.

The break-through for Team Oranje came at the 2015 World Championship in Denmark, when the Netherlands took the silver medal. Henk Groener had much to do with the success.

The second place in Denmark was not a lucky punch as the result at the 2016 Rio Olympics confirmed.  In Brazil, the Netherlands reached the semi-final.

Henk Groener, who scored 519 goals in his 208 internationals as a player, planted the seeds and his successor, Helle Thomsen, is looking to harvest the crop, now.

Will he be able to repeat the success story with “DieLadies”?   One thing for sure – Groener will be more open and accessible to the media compared to his predecessor.

Hope for continuity

The arrival of Henk Groener will lead to more continuity and longevity – at least that’s the hope.

Following the short and unsuccessful experiments with Danish coaches, it was clear from the start that Biegler would be a temporary solution.

Henk Groener´s contract will expire after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  Maybe, he can be convinced to stay even longer.

However, before Henk Groener takes over, Michael Biegler will be facing his most important challenge – the World Championship at home, in December.

Can “Beagle” crown his work and bring new glory to Germany’s handball women, who have been in the shadows of the men´s team for so long, and leave his successor with some extra pressure?

December will show.

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