A moment with … Ljubomir VranjesArticle
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A MOMENT WITH: The VELUX EHF Champions League winning coach speaks about his apprehensive beginnings taking over at SG Flensburg-Handewitt, proving the doubters wrong and that spectacular Saturday in Cologne last year

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Men's News

A moment with … Ljubomir Vranjes

Ljubomir Vranjes is an interesting guy. A lover of poetry, art, philosophy and photography, he has an interesting take on things. When the handball merry-go-round is over, he will probably head off to Africa and take photos of life. His approach to photography and handball are very similar. He sees the person, the soul, the worth and he wants that to shine through.

“I'm an actor playing a role”

There has been a sea change in his approach as coach of Flensburg (at least towards the media). Gone is the carefree Ljubo and in his place is the more hard-edged, media-savvy guy.

He is “straight-ahead” as he says, in his dealings with people, but now with the media he plays the game. However, as the interview progresses we get to see a deeper, more personal side to Ljubo and that's what makes this an interesting listen.

“You'll have to read my book”

He doesn't want to give all the stories away and constantly tells me that the last link to a story, the very, very interesting tidbits are to be found in his book, but he also opens up. When Sweden came calling with a coaching job at the end of his playing career, another opening was there to manage Flensburg.

The story of how he went from everyone’s friend (even in tough economic conditions) to eventually taking over the coaching role is interesting in the telling.

“They have to call me sir”

When he originally took the job, he didn't do much as he was, in his own head, a stop-gap. He was on the lookout for other coaches. But one game changed his outlook. It was then he began to take the job really seriously and the rest is a history in the making. They don't really have to call him sir, but there is no doubt that he is the leader.

When he speaks, they listen and as he says, “there is a door that closes when I am the coach”. He was at the time convinced of his ability as a coach, but maybe not for the Flensburg job. He admits that the fans of Flensburg have high expectations and believe the team is the best in the world, but that there will be serious rebuilding ahead.

“I would hit a coach that might say that now”

It could all have been so different. He could have played football. Throughout his handball career, from the time he was 12/13, he was told he was too small. There is pain in the retelling; even though he smiles wistfully, but there is no doubt that his drive was borne out of inauspicious beginnings.

His speed and quickness brought success to a “Golden-Generation” of Swedish handball and he admits that he brought something new to that team. He made space for them and they made space for him. For a back court player to be his size is unique, but then not everybody has the drive and ambition of a Vranjes.

“I'm gonna win this thing”

He sees the VELUX EHF Champions League as the pinnacle of success and a narrow two-legged defeat to HSV (eventual winners in 2013) spurred him to greater achievements. As a CL winning coach, he joins the greats, and his explanation of what occurred in the FCB semi-final is interesting in the telling.

He doesn't hold back as he explains his substitution policy in that game and listening to him, it shows that, we, on the outside, could never truly grasp what is going on in a coach’s mind.

“I always do more than I can”

He makes his team believe that they are the best and then gets them to play like that. He jokes that even I, 20 kilos overweight, would believe him if he told me I was the best. He breaks games down to a bounce of the ball and not being able to prepare for huge matches (the 1st leg of the HSV game for instance) tears him apart.

For a guy who was told he would never make it, he loves to prove the doubters wrong. He loves pressure; he loves the odds against him. He never gives a game up and you get the feeling, he never gives anything up. He comes across as a guy supremely confident in his ability. “If you saw what I do, you would love me,” he says. It's not arrogance from him, but a man who has looked life in the face and said show me your best.

I do like him. And although, perhaps, he is not the happy-go-lucky Ljubo I first met on my earliest travels in handball, there is a richness about him and a power that emanates from him that makes you want to listen. He has achieved the dream of winning a major title and now he wants time to rebuild, to win something again. And as he says, in sports anything can happen. 

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain / cor