1 on 1 with ATHF's Senior Vice President of Sports Operations, Cristian Zaharia (part 1)

[b]Following yesterday's announcement regarding the creation of a new US team handball federation, ATHF, I was able to secure an interview with someone I have been chasing for a long while. He is one of the principals behind the new Federation and the main force behind the upcoming French League Final. Ladies and gents, Coach Cristian Zaharia![/b]

Bogdan: Coach, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. You are a hard man to get a hold of!

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: Hello Bogdan. Yes it is tough to get a hold of me. As you know I am working hard on the Coupe de la Ligue, Miami 2009. I also have been working to bring together the right people for the new Federation, ATHF.[/color]

Bogdan: For those who don’t know who you are, would you mind introducing yourself as well as your achievements?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: To start with I am original from Romania but actualy I am a proud American citizen. As an Athlete I have arrived to the higest level, played more than 300 games with the Romanian National Team, played professional in 4 different countries, Sweden, Germany, France and off course Romania.
As the Head Coach of USA Men's National Team, I have won the Bronze Medal at the 2003 Pan Am Games in Dominican Republic. I have created from scratch the Miami Sharks Club here in Miami, and within 2 short years we came within few 7M shots of winning the 2004 National Title, the famous 3 day competition.
As a player, I do have a Bronze Medal at the World Championship in 1990, also I am an Olympian, 8th place at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. National Champion in Romania, and Sweden, MVP, etc, etc.
I have also been involved in the bid for the NGB with ATHA but unfortunately it didn't work out, where we could understand the exact value of each individual so we can create the best avenue for success.
The latest achievement is bringing of the first ever official proffesional competition in USA, the Final Four of the French LNH Coupe de la Ligue. The event will be played in Miami, at the American Airlines Arena, April 10-11, 2009, home of NBA’s Miami Heat. Tickets are on sale now for both the live Arena games at [link=www.ticketmaster.com]www.ticketmaster.com[/link] (search 'handball') and for the Internet Broadband access at [link=www.coupedelaligue.pro]www.coupedelaligue.pro[/link]. This is a private endeavor that will hopefully be supported by everyone so that it will turn into a huge success, which will be beneficial to all the true passiona te team handball people.[/color]


Bogdan: There is so much to cover. With such an impressive resume, I noticed you left out your coaching qualifications.

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: Regarding my coaching qualifications, towards the end of my professional career as a player I also was the assistant player/coach, learning from the best of the best in business. Beng Johanson, Cornel Otelea, Thierry Anti, Horst Bredemayer and the list continues.
As for my US coaching career, I have taken Mark Ortega from not knowing at all about this sport, to another level where he now plays professionally in Norway’s 1st Division!
Along my one and half year as the Head Coach of the USA MNT, I have promoted a lot of young players. Among them Gary Hines. As a side note, the first time I have asked about him, the "specialists" of those times, told me that he was not good. If I remem ber correctly, the term "flaky" was used to describe him. Ironic, isn't it!
Regarding the rest of my coaching merits… it is still a developing chapter with more to come. Let's talk about some other subjects.[/color]

Bogdan: Fair enough. Given your experience and results why (or who) is it that you are not involved more at the US National level. The previous NGB pushed you aside after bringing home the last US international medal to date. The current one did not even contact you until a month or so ago… Do you think this is personal?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: Listen, I do not want to enter into a speculative war of words with anybody, I am guessing all of the administrations, passed or present, had or have their reasons or logic.
What saddens me is that all of them have forgotten their original intent. To care! I do not know the specifics but based on my personal experience, there are their personal interest. I have mine too.
ATHF is comprised of PROVEN WINNERS and I am honored and grateful to be associated with such great individuals who, even though the sport of team handball was not their first choice, they have listened to my passion, did their research and decided to bring their expertise, dedication, experience and discipline forward and apply i t to the foundation of this new organization.
I am sure there will be a lot of questioning from the so called "specialists" ( they’re everywhere). ATHF is already doing something that nobody did it before. Next year in Miami, in April, some of the best of the best players on the globe, will be here. I hope everybody will come to see this event and get a glimpse of where we want to take this sport.
It is easier to understand when you see it with your own eyes. I can tell you a million stories but when you can 'touch it", experience it for yourself – you will be hooked for the rest of your life![/color]

Bogdan: You keep coming back to the ATHF. Why a new Federation?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: Because the previous and the current NGB, did the same, over and over again, each time hoping for a different outcome. I have gone on record many times telling everybody how the actual way of doing things is wrong, yet they are doing the same. We need to create a system where you need to have real experienc e in this sport so that were we are addressing the base. It seems that all these administrations want is the cherry on top… but there is no cake to be had!
I am a strong proponent and I encourage the adults to play this sport but the answer lies with the grass roots development. The ATHF has a plan and a strategy which we will unveil soon. Watch for it.[/color]

Bogdan: I know that the current NGB has refused to work with you. I will also note that it is difficult to go about describing the current handball situation without getting into politics, past, present and future. Since there is no way avoiding it, I will just have to ask you: Would you consider working with a Federation who does not share in your vision and has no handball knowledge and credibility? Can there be compromises?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: I am focusing all of my knowledge, expertise and my energy, along with that of my partners – and all of those who will understand our values – on making ATHF as succesfull as I know it can be. I have worked for way too many years, over 30 to be exact, to build up my credibility and my reputation. I will not waste it on something that I do not believe is going to produce the end result I am looking for. Everything else is pure speculation and I will let the "specialists" interpret it..[/color]

Bogdan: So, no compromise I guess. You have the brain and the talent. You have the credibility and you have also managed to singlehandedly bring the Final Four of the French Ligue to Miami. Talk about what that means to you and to team handball in the US and tell us about the All Star Game…

Cristian: [color=#ff0000]Following the end of my very successfull professional career, I have always dreamt about getting the USA to become the team handball power that it should be, given the pool of athletic talent (perfect for team handball) existent in this country that, unfortunately, gets is wasted every year. I have hoped that my involvement (or better yet – my partial involvement) with the other administrations will bring about this development.
The fact that I was able to understand the real implications and dynamics of the sport of team handball, along with the existent system – from the inside – has helped me to build the best team with some of the best visionaries who will contribute with their intelligence of this business.
The Final Four of the Coupe de la Ligue 2009 and the All Star Game, both to be held here in Miami at the American Airlines Arena, are a huge building block for the future of ATHF and US team handball overall. The global implications are already evident. The French Professional League has become a very well known and respected League in Europe and abroad. The IHF and other Governing International Bodies, coupled with various local political authorities, have all been very supportive.
It is my full intention to deliver an All Star Game, that will showcase the talent existent in Pan America but I currently I am still waiting for an offical answer from the Pan American Federation. What is certain, is that the window of opportunity for the All Star game participants is getting smaller every day and if an agreement cannot be reached, I will have to go to Plan B, another surprise in itself.
I know that the young kids who will be attending the two day event at American Airlines Arena as well as those who will watch the games over the Internet, will be fascinated by the sheer beauty of the game. I have no doubt that these very same kids will eventually become fans and players of team handball, while their parents will become the coaches, refs or the support staff that the ATHF will embrace and nurture.
Lastly, a message for those clubs out there who will be or wish to be affiliated with the ATHF (their choice of course). Know that a successful Miami event will instantly translate into many fringe benefits to those affiliated with ATHF. We will address these and other topics in due time.[/color]

to be continued…