By Kevin Domas
On Friday morning Nikola Karabatic underwent surgery, to heal a bunion on his left foot. After suffering for almost two years, “the pain had become too strong,” says the French national center-back on the club’s website. “It reached the point where, if I carried on, I could have jeopardized my career.”
There will be immediate consequences for his club, Paris Saint-Germain after five rounds in the Champions League, where the French side has yet to lose a point, but can expect a tough period before Christmas. The team from the French capital will play Szeged twice, Flensburg twice and Skjern at home before the year is out.
So far, Paris have coped well, almost without Karabatic, ever since September because Sander Sagosen and Mikkel Hansen have picked up the slack, to an extent that almost nobody speaks about the injured Kim Ekdahl du Rietz anymore.
Can you play with three players covering two positions for six months? Paris have been looking for a substitute to replace Nikola Karabatic. But that’s one tough mission. Opponents will feel more confident, knowing that Paris will be missing Karabatic and certainly will be reluctant to “help” them. Furthermore, how do you replace Nikola Karabatic ? You can’t.
Last-minute substitutes are always a tough call, as some of the more recent examples show. Egyptian right-back, Ahmed El-Ahmar, did an OK job in Flensburg a couple of seasons ago, but Slovenian center-back, Miha Zarabec, is only now showing his full potential…two years after arriving in Kiel. There is no risk as such in drafting a player in the middle of the season. Whether he’ll be useful or not is another question.
For France, the problem is even more significant. During the last eight years, Nikola Karabatic has been at the center of the action and to replace him on short notice will be anything but easy. Coach, Didier Dinart, will have to find solutions as early as next week, when France will face Lithuania and Romania in the 2020 EHF EURO qualifiers.
“For me it’s tough and disappointing to miss the World Championship, which will be played in two countries that are very fond of handball. But if I were to carry on, I would have missed it anyway. It’s the first international competition I’ll miss,” says Nikola Karabatic.
For Didier Dinart, satisfying options are few and far. Nicolas Claire, the current “number two” on the position had his up’s and down’s at the EURO, last January and he doesn’t seem to be up to the task. Strangely enough, Claire has played an amazing handball for the past 18 months with Nantes but never seems to find his rhythm in international competitions. Dika Mem must be a likely option as well. The young player from FC Barcelona was tested on the center-back position in Croatia and left a pretty good impression.
Kentin Mahé, who lacks playing time in Veszprem, might be an option as well, but he may only be a short-term solution, someone you can only use for ten or fifteen minutes. And as Didier Dinart always assigns a premium to a player’s defensive skills, Mahé doesn’t look like his first choice.
Next week’s games will provide a first indication of what we can expect from France at the 2019 World Cup in Germany.
While PSG have all the means to sign an adequate replacement, the national team certainly hasn’t.