By coincidence, rather different ways of viewing similar problems have come up in the last couple of days. One of the issues involved is the dilemma of ‘focus on national teams vs. supremacy of the club handball’.
This was highlighted when Heiner Brand gave a press conference in Germany apropos his switch from many years as the coach of the men’s national team to a multi-faceted position in the German Federation. Here he will focus on the education of younger talents, coordination with regional federations, education for coaches, and coordination with research institutions among other things. But in his statement, a noticeably frustrated Brand could not refrain from lashing out against many of the stakeholders in German handball, especially on the club side.
Brand described top clubs as business entities located in Germany but with little interest in the development of German handball (players). He talked about Bundesliga representatives as naïve or ignorant, and he characterized the association of top European clubs as dangerous. He repeated his insistence on a quota approach, i.e., a requirement for a certain number of German players on each Bundesliga club. While he will need to bring people together and try to pull in the same direction when in his new job, his statements clearly seemed more polarizing than aimed at reconciling views.
On the same day in Sweden, the federation president, Hans Vestberg (known also as the top man at global giant Ericsson), proudly introduced a new approach with a very different mindset. The Swedish Federation talked about making the men’s and women’s handball teams the most popular national teams in Sweden. To that end, they have set up a new structure, with a business company, parallel to (but coordinated with) the Federation structure, which will coordinate the team development but also focus very strongly on the business, PR and marketing aspects.
Not just have the 2+2 coaches of the national teams been made full-time employees, freed up from club duties, but a ‘managing director’ has been hired to oversee both the sports and the business side. He is none other than Stefan Lovgren, one of the globally best known and respected ex-players of recent decades. And there is most definitely no tension between the national team focus and the interest of the top clubs in the Swedish league. If anything, the top clubs expect to benefit greatly from this strengthened focus on the national teams.
As I wrote in a recent article, the top clubs hope to become more competitive at the European level, both as a league and in terms of success for the individual clubs. They hope to be stronger in their aspirations by following the same business-oriented approach now introduced in the spirit of Hans Vestberg and Stefan Lovgren. And the team coaches, Ola Lindgren and Staffan Olsson, do not find reason to complain that the Swedish League, with a standard currently far from comparable to Bundesliga, is constituting an inadequate development basis for the new generation of young Swedish talents.
Finally, apropos contrasting approaches, I want to congratulate Zamalek (Egypt), Pinheiros (Brazil) and Southern Stars (Australia) for representing their countries and continents so honorably in the IHF Super Globe event that just finished. They were third, fourth and fifth behind Kiel and Ciudad Real in the fair and serious part of the competition. If this does not match the ranking that you have seen, this is because I count Valladolid, Veszprem and Yugoslavia All Stars separately, in their thinly disguised attempt to masquerade as representatives of Asian clubs.