By Sascha Staat
On the outset of the 10th edition of the VELUX Men’s EHF FINAL4, Bertus Servaas, the president of Vive Kielce, talks about the team’s prospects in Cologne, beating Paris and the departure of Croatian playmaker Luka Cindric to Barca Lassa.
First of all, congratulations to winning the Polish championship and making it to the VELUX EHF Men’s FINAL4 once again. For many that’s a big surprise, for you as well?
BS: It’s a surprise – although it has been our objective to advance to Cologne at the beginning of the season. But, when you look at all the injuries we’ve had, then it’s unexpected. Looking at our team’s quality I think we belong.
In Paris, we saw you celebrate like a little kid during the final seconds of the return leg of the Champions League quarter-final…
BS: I’m always happy, when we succeed, maybe a little happier against Paris, because they were the big favorite to win the title. They made it to Cologne the last three years, although they haven’t won it (the FINAL4 ed.) yet. We had a great game at home and then we sort of survived in Paris.
How much does this mean for you personally as well as the club?
BS: It’s very important, not only to me, but for handball in Poland, because the national team is not playing well, right now. In Poland, handball has to stay relevant and now it does. I received a lot of calls during the last days and there are a lot of newspapers and media representatives who will report about the FINAL4. We were planning for the FINAL4, but getting there will be a great experience for players like Moryto, Karalek or Kulesh, especially.
Barcelona and Veszprem are considered favorites in Cologne – do you agree?
BS: On paper they are. I guess Barcelona comes first, then Veszprem and we are on the same level as Vardar. But Cologne has shown often enough that there are no favorites. Yet, it was impressive to see how Veszprem beat Szeged in the Hungarian league final.
Kielce will face Veszprem in the semi-final. The team seems to be on fire as they won most of their games easily. Flensburg, for example, did not stand a chance in the Champions League quarter-final and they destroyed Szeged in the first match of the Hungarian league final. How do you rate your chances?
BS: We are not afraid. We’ve nothing to lose. Veszprem wants to win it – for the club and for their great supporters. All the pressure is on Veszprem. We can just play and that’s our big chance. There is no pressure on us, none at all.
What needs to happen for you to leave Cologne satisfied?
BS: I’ll leave as a happy man if we finish 4th, but I’m hopeful. I believe in my team – they can beat anybody. A few years ago, we defeated Veszprem and we also beat Barcelona and Vardar in the past. We just defeated Paris. A medal would be great, making it to the final would be even better, and winning the trophy would be fantastic. But, as of right now I’m already satisfied.
Over the past few months, we heard that there is a lot of work for you to do, to achieve financial stability at the club. Were you able to implement a more sustainable structure?
BS: Everything is fine, right now. Last summer we asked the players for a pay cut of 20 percent and almost everyone agreed. Dean Bombac left, so that was fine. The players put a lot of trust in me. Today, we signed a big sponsor and we will probably sign another one on June 15th. Thereafter, we can work without any stress for the next three years.
So, Kielce is in no danger of becoming a second “Vardar”?
BS: No – right now there is absolutely no danger of it happening. If we complete all the contracts that we are about to sign, we will be fine for the next three years and we’ll be able to expand the club.
While you consider your financial situation, can you really decline an offer of EURO 4 million for one single player, like Luka Cindric?
BS: That’s only media talk – it’s not true at all. If somebody would offer me EURO 4 million for him, he would be sitting on the plane the next day. It’s BS. In handball EURO 1.5 million to EURO 2 million is the absolute limit. Anything else is made up by media. Our philosophy is to get the players, when they are still a bit cheaper and keep them until the end of their contract. It’s not our idea to make them part of a trading business. We are an ambitious club.
Can you guarantee to all fans that they can look forward to see a great Kielce team in the next years?
BS: Yes, because we plan everything the right way. We will lose Luka Cindric to Barcelona, but then we will get Andreas Wolff and he will make us 15-20 percent better on the goalkeeper position. He’s an exceptional player in all due respect to our current goalkeepers.
Just to get it right – Luka Cindric is on his way to Barcelona?
BS: Yes – he would like to leave. And, I don’t want a player on my team, who does not want to play for Kielce. The negotiations are almost finished.
Are we talking about a departure in the summer or 2020?
BS: No – this summer. Only the signatures are missing.