The European Handball Federation (EHF) weekly highlights show includes an “Inside the Game” segment which often includes behind the scenes interviews with players and coaches. This past week’s segment focused on Brazilian handball players in the Champions League. Currently, there are 5 Brazilians playing for Champions League Clubs. They are:
- Gabriel Jung, Barcelona, Right Back, 19
Haniel Langaro, La Riolla (Logrono), Left Back, 21
Jose Toledo, Plock, Right Back, 22
Rogerio Ferreira, Vardar, Circle Runner, 22
Thiagos dos Santos, Szeged, Left Back, 27
The video feature can be seen here: Link
Commentary: Four of those players are age 22 or younger and are playing and practicing with some of the top clubs in the world. This is a testament to the grass roots programs that Brazil has established if they can develop talent that top clubs are willing to sign and further develop as players.
It will be very challenging for the U.S. to take athletes that are older than those players, that have barely played handball before, train them in the U.S. where there is not quality competition, and then beat Brazil in an Olympic qualification match. And, trust me, “challenging” is a diplomatic choice of words.
All is not doom and gloom, however. In the most recently posted USA Team Handball Board Meeting minutes it is noted that U.S. Men’s coach Javier Garcia would like to see the players do 1-2 years in Auburn and then head to Europe for competition. And, that players need to improve in quality in order to facilitate their integration in teams overseas.
For me, this was a sign of a potential change in focus for the residency program at Auburn, away from National Team preparation and more towards athlete development. Perhaps, not to dissimilar from my commentary two years ago suggesting that the national team residency program at Auburn be rebranded and as a development academy focused on younger athletes with greater potential. The sooner we can get such a pipeline to Europe going the better our chances will be of competing against the likes of Brazil and Argentina. Who knows? Maybe, one day in the not too distant future we’ll see an “Inside the Game” feature on up and coming Americans playing on Champions League Clubs.