AGK no more! Players unemployed and impact on Champions League

it was nice as long as it lasted...

I recently wrote about AG Copenhagen (AGK), describing them as a ‘house of cards’ after the dominating owner Jesper Nielsen had suddenly announced his departure. AGK indicated that they would try to find new owners and somehow rescue the status of the club, even though the situation looked grim with the money for players and other expenses lacking.

And this week, with the handball world’s attention being on the Olympic tournament in London, it was made clear that AGK has declared bankruptcy. The club is now reverting to its old form of Albertslund-Glostrup in the Danish 3rd division and the players are considered unemployed. They are entitled to unemployment compensation under Danish law, but many of them will quickly reach the limit for such payments, considering the size of their contracts. Skive who were relegated at the end of the 2011-12 season are now pondering an offer to remain in the top division.

While the players are not likely to have been totally unsuspecting about the end being near, for several of them who are right now focused on Olympic handball it must be an unwelcome distraction. Some of them would normally be eagerly sought after by other top clubs, while others might suddenly consider early retirement. The problem is the timing. At this point in the year, most clubs have their rosters and their budgets firmly set for the 2012-13 season and there are very few who would have the resources to absorb AGK players.

The Swedish trio, Kim Andersson, Ekberg (who is currently performing well in London) and Petersen, may be sure to get offers ‘from across the bridge’ in Sweden, although it is also suggested that Kiel is interested in Ekberg. Boldsen might retire, but he is also speculating about joining a club in Qatar. Having not played in the EURO 2012, he would in fact be eligible for the Qatar national team when they host the World Championship in 2015. Olafur Stefansson might also consider retirement.
The main speculation tends to involved ‘World player of the year’ Mikkel Hansen, but he is not the only one whose name is being linked to a European top club. But only a very limited group of teams would seem to be in the running, e.g., Kiel, Flensburg, Barcelona, Kielce and Veszprem. It will be interesting to see how this sudden ‘market’ will play itself out after the Olympics.

Obviously there are also implications for the EHF Champions League. After their third-place in the past season, AGK was the obvious top seed in one of the main round groups for the coming season. The EHF took a few days to consider this unprecedented situation, and today came out with an announcement. Perhaps some other top teams had hoped for an improved ranking through some kind of ‘chain reaction’, but the EHF went for the simplest solution. The slot of AGK will be taken over by Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (BSF). And the place of BSF in the Champions League ‘wild card qualifying’ was given to Cimos Koper (Slovenia) who had been next in line for such an opportunity. Everything else remains unchanged.

One hopes that some lessons will be learned from the AGK saga. While AGK had successes and was a positive factor as long as it lasted, they now leave a gap in Danish handball and in the Copenhagen region. Particularly at a time of financial difficulties essentially in most of Europe, it seems important that sports clubs at the elite level have a very solid foundation. Relying on the money and efforts by an individual owner or key sponsor is likely to constitute a gamble. The endeavor may be well-intended, but it may easily turn out to be a ‘house of cards’!