Two men running the young guns hatcheryArticle
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BEHIND THE SCENES: They are leading resurgence at a club synonymous with the EHF Champions League: Ante Ancic and Bozidar Jovic at Croatia Osiguarnje Zagreb

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

Two men running the young guns hatchery

Despite losing almost all big names in the recent years they still fight for the place among the top 16 of the continent relying mostly on the young players from their own youth system. Two rounds before the end of the group phase they have a very realistic chance to reach the knockout stage.

Since the competition began, Zagreb has missed only one EHF Champions League season.

Before the EHF took over the European top flight, the perennial Croatian champions had reached the very top (Champions Cup) two times, in 1992 against Teka from Santander and in 1993 against Wallau.

In the Champions League they reached the final four more times, three times against Barcelona and once with Elgorriaga.

In the past 20 years they went through various phases, with an experienced team built over a number of years.

With superstars like Balic, Vori, Dzomba and Lazarov, the club were always there or there about.

Now, after many years of trying to reach the top, they are doing their best to build a young, competitive team, not only for the Croatian league but also to test themselves in European competition.

The reason for Zagreb's impressive level at the moment is due to the duo of director Ante Ancic and general manager Bozidar Jovic, a famous Croatian national team player with World Championship gold from 2003, Olympic gold from 1996 and a Champions League winner from 1993.

Jovic's great handball experience along with Ancic's organisational knowledge creates a great image of the club.

Ante Ancic has been part of the Zagreb handball family for the last 10 years, from technical secretary to director and there is no one better to explain how the iconic club functions.

“Each part of the club works as a team, with much love for handball. I have great colleagues such as Luka Panza, Goran Roknic and Matija Hećimović who I appreciate really much,” says Ancic, who goes on to explain the club’s relationship with Europe’s elite competition:

“It’s just like being married, from moments of love to war, but it is important that love always wins.”

In his 10 years at Zagreb, he has experienced many highs and lows with the club.

“The win against Vardar in regional SEHA league's finals in Skopje was brilliant and I hope to have even better memories in the Champions League.

“Each year we dream about the FINAL4 in Cologne which makes each loss painful. The worst thing was three years ago against Kiel when we had a really good team but didn't manage to win in the end.”

“Zagreb will always but among Europe’s top ten and I see us in Cologne in a few years. Our youth team has a lot of potential to grow,” said Ancic.

Realising the potential

General manager Bozidar Jovic has an idea of how to reach their potential. The team is built upon current Croatian senior, junior and youth national team players and is one of few teams in the competition with 100% home grown players, a very rare sight at the highest level.

“We could have already been on top in the last few years but we've lost some great players due to financial situations. Richer clubs came calling and there was nothing we could do.

“We had Lazarov, Balic, Dzomba, Kopljar, Gojun, Strlek and with them here I believe we would have already reached Cologne and become champions.

“We never give up, but are always creating new and better chances. One of the main problems was that the league was too weak, but now we have the SEHA league with strong teams and plenty of interest.

“This is only the beginning of our great comeback, not to be misunderstood, because in order to progress more work and training is required,” said Jovic, and a man with his experience knows exactly what is needed.

“I often remember when we played Wallau as a young team. We were rising and rising and then it happened. It's my best experience in Zagreb.

“The hardest was losing to Barcelona in the finals, because there was nothing we could do.

“Barca had two hard semi-finals against Veszprem and Celje, but they managed to get through. If they didn't, I'm sure we would have won more. But Barcelona were simply too strong,” concluded Jovic, who after his playing career became a manager instead of a coach, because he felt he did not have the nerves for it.

Nevertheless, the position of manager appears to suit him perfectly and he is the right man to lead Zagreb. 

TEXT: Bruno Pinevic / cor