Wind of change blowing in AalborgArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 2: Despite undergoing a plethora of personnel changes, expectations remain high at the Danish club

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Wind of change blowing in Aalborg

The wind of change is blowing at the North Sea coast in Aalborg: After becoming Danish champions in 2013 and making it to the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League season 2013/14, coach Nikolaj Jacobsen said “farvel” to join Rhein Neckar Löwen and succeed Gudmundur Gudmundsson, the new Danish national team coach.

Due to their strong performances in Europe last season, high profile clubs were on the hunt for Aalborg talent, leading to the departures of Danish international Mads Mensah Larsen, who joined Jacobsen at Rhein Neckar Löwen, Swedish international Johan Jakobsson (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) and Johan Bagersted (SC Magdeburg).

So it is the main job for the new coach Jesper Jensen (Jacobsen’s former international teammate) to integrate the newcomers and himself at the current Danish runners-up, who lost the league final against KIF Kolding Kobenhavn.

“Obviously, we have a new team more or less, as some of the greatest stars have left, so we have to build a new basis. I think we have got pretty far already,” said an optimistic Jensen.

And the coach has every reason to be optimistic, as the names of those new arrivals are well-known in the world of handball: Spanish international Isaias Guardiola arrives from Rhein Neckar Löwen and Icelandic shooter Olafur Guststafsson from Flensburg, while Aalborg continued their tradition of signing Norwegian talents with 20-year-old Sander Sagosen, who already debuted in the men’s team at the EHF EURO 2014 – in Aalborg.

36-year-old Jensen is not only the new coach of the club but also its manager. He insists he’s ready to fulfil both tasks, despite having just two years on the bench at women’s first league team Vejen.

“Of course it is a big task for me to be in charge of one of the best teams in Denmark. I will not hesitate to admit that, but I feel well prepared and well equipped for the job. When it comes to the game of handball, I feel completely at home.

“When it comes to management, though, I will inevitably meet some challenges in some areas, but I feel quite calm and confident about that, and hopefully I can learn the things I do not know yet in a hurry.”

The goals of Aalborg Håndbold are set high for this season - making it at least to the semi-finals of the domestic league and progressing to the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League again.

In Group D, the Danes will face Kielce, Dunkerque, Schaffhausen, Szeged and the winner of Qualification tournament 2.  A tricky group made tougher by pre-season injuries to Marcus Mørk, who will not be able to play until 2015, and Martin Larsen, who should return in October or November.

Three questions to coach Jesper Jensen:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League - regarding your objectives and your group opponents?

Jesper Jensen: It is an exciting draw for us. Of course, Kielce is the absolute favourite in our group but I expect the rest of the group to be very equal. Our main goal will be to go on from the group phase, but we are aware of, that it will be difficult. We strongly believe that if we play at our best then we are able to achieve our goal. 

What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Jesper Jensen: Participating in the Champions League is, and always will be, a big thing for Aalborg Handball. It is something the squad, the club and the city is looking forward to. It is a chance for us to measure how far we have come in competing with the best clubs in Europe and it also gives us an opportunity to collect valuable experience that can be used in the national league.

Which teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and to win the title this season – and why?

Jesper Jensen: I believe Kiel and Barcelona are looking very strong this year. So if they do not meet in the semis, then I expect those two teams to be the finalists in Cologne. I also see Veszprem as a very strong team and then the last spot is more open, maybe with Kielce as a small favourite to be the last team.

Aalborg Håndbold (DEN)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Danish runners-up

Newcomers: Søren Westphal (KIF Kolding København), Isaías Guardiola (Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Olafur Gustafsson (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Sander Sagosen (Haslum HK)

Left the club: Mads Mensah Larsen (Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Johan Jakobsson (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Richard Kappelin (Selestat), Jacob Bagersted (Magdeburg)

Coach: Jesper Jensen (since 1st of July 2014, successor of Nikolaj Jacobsen/Rhein Neckar Löwen)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 3
Last 16 (1): 2013/2014
Group Phase (1): 2010/11

Danish league champion: 2009/10, 2012/13
Danish Super Cup winner: 2012

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor