The not so usual suspects: Handball mercenaries from the Netherlands, Israel, and Georgia

Without a doubt, the German Bundesliga (HBL) matches that I most look forward to watching on the “My Sports Germany” channel are the big showdowns like Hamburg – Kiel and Rhein-Neckar Lowen – Hamburg. The world’s best players playing pivotal matches in packed arenas. You can’t beat it and it’s truly a joy that I can now watch matches like that from my couch in Las Vegas.

But, while those matches are a treat, I’ve also enjoyed seeing some of the other clubs in the HBL’s 2nd and 3rd tier play. It’s clear that while these clubs are a rung below the big dogs, they still have passionate supporters and they can play some quality handball. And despite their smaller budgets these clubs still have their share of mercenaries from other countries. Having previously seen a lot of French league play, I’m not surprised to see that the usual suspects from Scandinavia and the Balkans are peppered throughout the league. I’m not certain if it’s true, but I’ve been told that some European leagues even have a mandatory roster requirement for each club to carry at least one left hander with their last name ending with “ic”.

I’ve also noticed, however, that there are more than a few mercenaries from less traditional handball nations. Here are few of the more notable examples:

The Dutch contingent

Fabian van Olphen: This 29 year old left Back for Madgeburg has been plying his trade in Germany for 7 years. According to the German Wikipedia article he was principally noted for his defensive prowess, but having seen him play a few times, it seems that he has also developed into a pretty decent backcourt player
Gerrie Eijlers: This 30 year old starts in the goal for Madgeburg and has worked his way up through the ranks with 7 years playing for several clubs
Nicky Verjans: This 23 year old right wing has been playing in Germany for 5 years. First with Nordhorn and now for Lubbecke.

Editor’s Note: In the original posting of this article I failed to mention several other Dutch players (see below) currently playing in the HBL. With this many players in the HBL I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before they qualify for a European or World Championships.
Mark Bult: This 28 year old Right Back plays for Berlin
Bartosz Konitz: 26 year old Left Back (Luebbecke):
Tim Remer: 25 year old Left Wing (Luebbecke)
Mark Schmetz: 33 year old Left Wing has been playing in Germany for 12 years. He’s played in the HBL’s 1st Division for Essen, Lemgo and now Ahlen-Hamm.

The Israeli contingent

Avishay Smoler: This 25 year old right winger starts for Lemgo and has already been playing in the HBL for 3 years. Not to mention he made his national team debut at the tender age of 15.
Flensburg website (2007): Avishay Smoler: The first Israeli in the Bundesliga:
Chen Pomeranz: Pomeranz, 26, first made a name for himself when he led the Swiss league in scoring during the 2007-08 season. Following that campaign, the Center Back move to the HBL, first with Wetzlar and now with Ahlen-Hamm.

The Georgian backcourt

Sergo Datukaschwili: Nope, I’m not referring to Mabelton, Georgia native, Gary Hines. Instead, I speak of Tbilisi native Sergo Datukaschwilli. When the Soviet Union broke up in the 1990’s, handball remained relevant mostly in the republics closer to Northern Europe. Russia, particularly, the women’s team has been a power while the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic Republics have been to varying degrees respectable. Further south, they must still play handball, though, otherwise Datukaschwilli wouldn’t have found his way to the HBL. Although, it’s been quite a circuitous route for the 32 year old Datukaschwilli, who’s playing his first season in the HBL’s top league. Prior to signing with Lemgo he spent twelve years playing in Germany, Lebanon, Serbia, Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and Dubai. Interestingly, enough Datukashvilli and Gary Hines share a former club, as both found their way to the Canary Island’s Tolimar Tres de Mayo.
Sergo Datukashvili, new player Expo Tres de Mayo:
USATH: Gary Hines:
THN (15 Jan 07): Gary Hines Joins Tolimar Tres de Mayo:
THN (18 May 10): Get this guy a contract!:

What’s worth noting about these unlikely mercenaries is that it provides clear evidence that if a player is good enough, some club in Europe’s top league will find him and put him on their roster. The fact that these players have made it, should be heartening to Americans, Brits, Australians and others toiling away in the lower divisions in Europe. While Germans might lament or resent foreign players taking roster spots from Germans it clearly benefits developing handball nations to have their top players playing regularly at levels that can’t be duplicated in their home countries.

That being said these mercenaries still haven’t been able to put the Netherlands, Israel or Georgia into a World Championships and with the exception of Israel in 2002 the final round of the European Championships. A quick review of their recent national team results shows some respectable scores in qualification play, but not enough wins to move them into the next tier. In Europe it would seem that 2 or 3 players in the HBL is insufficient to take that next leap.