By Sascha Staat
“History will be made”, that’s a claim used most recently by the NBA, if I’m not totally mistaken. To be honest history is made every summer when the various sports leagues around the world crown their champions.
But what Thüringer HC accomplished on Saturday was truly historic. For a record sixth time in a row, the team of Herbert Müller won the German league title – the women’s league, I should add for those not familiar with handball in the heart of Europe.
If you read this article you’re probably so much into it that you’ve heard about Thüringer HC; most likely because of five straight Champions League appearances, while the club was once short, one goal, of qualifying for the Final 4 in Budapest.
Prior to Saturday’s showdown against archrival HC Leipzig the hosts needed a draw to finish first, while the guests had one simple objective: winning the game. In the end they didn’t even come close in a 20:31 loss and Thüringer celebrated yet another time.
When you take a look at the bigger picture it’s even more historic, because the club is based in Bad Langensalza, a small town close to Erfurt, in Thuringia, not exactly what you call a metropolis loaded with money and endless options of sponsorship.
Leipzig, on the other hand, already dominated women’s handball in the German Democratic Republic, named VfB Leipzig, and won two titles at the end of the 1990s, while adding four more as HC Leipzig later on. So how on earth was it possible to win the league six times in six years for a club like Thüringen?
The answer is obvious and has a name – Herbert Müller. The 53-year old Romanian-born head coach is probably the best women’s coach in German history. He took 1. FC Nürnberg from second division to national glory; winning three championships and later established his tricks in Erfurt.
But it’s not that easy. After leading Nürnberg to its second straight title in 2008, he resigned amid huge financial problems, left his players in tears and moved on to join Rumental Brasov, a club long gone because of financial troubles.
After two years in the middle of nowhere, and without winning titles, he decided to join a club that just had avoided relegation. He recruited many of his former players, like Austrian Katrin Engel, a former World Championship top scorer, and playmaker Kerstin Wohlbold, his loyal captain ever since.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Thüringer HC had become a title contender, although Müller tried hard to lower expectations. But in his first season at the club, with a playoff system still in place, the team won the championship on away-goals against Buxtehuder SV, and one year later beating the same opponent, by a single goal, claiming yet another title.
Müller, along with his younger brother Helfried – he serves as an assistant coach – implemented a winner’s mentality right from the beginning. His players will do whatever he asks from them, and he’s asking a lot. There’s not a single game that the team doesn’t take seriously. Actually, there’s not a single training session that his players don’t approach in earnest.
The charismatic coach asks for professionalism, but possibly rates loyalty even a bit higher. The players love to play for him, at least those who pay him back on the court. Others, who get cut because of financial reasons or seniority, might not like him as much anymore.
But there’s no denying the facts – Müller keeps winning. No matter where, no matter what. And he does it while losing top class players every summer. In 2011 Pearl van der Wissel left the club, as did Steffi Subke. In 2012 Idalina Borges Mesquita said good bye, in 2014 Alexandrina Borbosa and Maike März left. Last summer Nadja Nadgornaja opted to move closer to her boyfriend.
Now, after setting a league-record as the coach with most victories in league history, with his nine league titles – six of them in a row – he will have to do some magic again. Danick Snelder, Svenja Huber and Eliza Buceschi have worn the THC jersey for a last time, except for the German cup Final 4 on this upcoming weekend.
Müller, knows quite well that he will always lose his best talents to some of the richer clubs around Europe; still the journey will continue at least for another two years. He just extended his contract until the summer of 2018, while his girlfriend gave birth to their second child.
Will he be able to set more records in the next few years? Will he himself finally join a team able to contend for the Champions League title? Or will he, one day, take over the German national team as he should have done years ago already?
It’s the fierce rivalries between HC Leipzig, arrivistes TuS Metzingen and SG BBM Bietigheim, as well as Borussia Dortmund that keep him going. For him it’s simple to motivate his players, but even with a character like Müller – one day the fire will be gone.
Until it happens, he will probably win more titles and keep celebrating while running up and down the sidelines, discussing with the referees, while trying to set new records. Even if he doesn’t – this title, as he said, “just feels so great, because it was so improbable.” He will remember it for sure, because this one is for the ages.
For a recent interview with Herbert Mueller at KreisAb, please click here.