By Sascha Staat
Kielce’s boss, Bertus Servaas, is a man not shy of raising his voice and he did so after his team’s Champions League victory against Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s B-team last weekend. Here is what the outspoken Dutch businessman had to say when I talked to him about the match and necessary consequences.
First of all congratulations to the lopsided win, even though it was no contest at all. I would like to talk to you about what happened before. Jennifer Kettemann – the Managing Director of Rhein-Neckar Löwen – recently told me that you had good talks with her. Are you disappointed about her decision to send the B squad to Kielce?
BS: First, I would like to take the opportunity to praise our opponent – a young team – they tried hard for 60 minutes and gave their very best. They showed a good fight and they had no fear. Coming back to Jennifer Kettemann and the talks we had last week – it’s a shame we didn’t speak earlier in person. I guess the best solution would have been to play on Wednesday or switch the home and away legs. We couldn’t find a proper solution and that’s a shame for the sport of handball, because handball lost in this instance. Personally, I think it’s all about the communication between the German league and the EHF – they have to make sure that such problems never come up again.
Did you understand the arguments and concerns of Kettemann and Rhein NeckarLöwen?
BS: Rhein-Neckar Löwen want to win the Bundesliga title, so that’s an argument I can understand. But if I look at the Champions League, then I think that we did have other solutions available. They (Rhein-Neckar Löwen ed.) wanted to force the EHF to have this game re-scheduled one day later – ultimately they lost this power-play. Also, at one point, we had sold all tickets and the arena was not available anymore because of a volleyball match. We didn’t want to get into a fight with anyone, and for us it was very important to play on this particular weekend as we have many supporters travelling 300 kilometers or more to see us play. We play handball for them. At one point, we played during the week against Flensburg and we received a lot of negative feedback – we didn’t want to do it again. Now, we will play in Mannheim this upcoming weekend and I think it will be a very good game as Rhein Neckar Löwen want to prove that they can beat us with their first team.
I assume you weren’t able to enjoy the first leg?
BS: Oh yes – I did. Before the match I wasn’t sure about the atmosphere and if our players would be able to concentrate. But then I saw a very ambitious opponent and our team was very professional and very focused for 60 minutes. I believe the people who came to watch the game went home satisfied, because it wasn’t a boring contest. I also think the atmosphere was very good – on that end handball didn’t lose. But in the big picture handball lost considering what happened before the game. If we want handball to become a global sport such situations cannot happen.
Are you happy that the Champions League is going to change its format once again?
BS: Yes, and I’m one of its biggest supporters. We need to have more of high caliber games in the Champions League. We just can’t survive with the German and French leagues. Handball will go down, when compared with basketball and football. They only way out is to make handball more global, everyone has to understand it. I have had plenty of arguments about it with the EHF as well. I will continue to work hard for having one group including 12, 13 or 14 teams. That way we’ll get at least 22 good matches on a very high level. I think that everyone has to acknowledge some of the consequences, for example the German Bundesliga cut down to 14 or 15 teams.
Are you very optimistic regarding such a reform?
BS: I’m not optimistic, but I think people must understand, everyone involved in handball must understand it. If we continue to think only short-term, we will have problems in the long run. In four, five or six years we will have a serious problem when compared to basketball. In basketball it’s being done without the federations but the arenas are full, sometimes 12,000 or 14,000 supporters are attending the matches. I think we have to do it the same way. If we do it the same way, then handball will survive. If not then maybe only the Bundesliga will be left and I don’t think that’s a good plan.