The worm turnsArticle
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BLOG: After a two-week break the European top flight is back and so are blogs of Tom O'Brannagain. The ehfTV commentator points towards the ever-present change in the world of sport with new powerhouses emerging while old giants refusing to give way.

The worm turns

"To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood”

(Henry VI part 3)

When Shakespeare used that simple phrase, "The worm has turned," he knew his audience would understand its meaning and origin. A widely used expression even today, it indicates a reversal of fortune.

For those of us versed in the lore of Tolkien or even of today’s “Game of Thrones”, a "Worm" is a common term for 'dragon.' In fairy tale terms, the flying dragon would wreak havoc. To be in the dragon's path resulted in inescapable destruction. What a relief if it changed directions.

But the phrase continues today. It describes a more ancient and universal force: the annual cycle of the sun. As time cycles through the seasons, the Dragon circles through the Zodiac.

After summer solstice, when long summer days dry the earth, the Dragon ravages the land bringing drought and pestilence. As the seasons change, the worm turns.

It’s a phrase I use quite regularly to quell the stress of those who are experiencing bad luck. It changes. Everything changes. Everything is transitory.

Currently Barcelona are the champions of the VELUX EHF Champions League, but they look nothing like the team of last year. Their “Lion” has gone to Paris and he has left a hole that will be difficult to fill.

Karabatic is more than just a great player. He is a leader and a winner. So often in games, we saw him fight when others around him seemed to be losing their heads.

He was so often the man that faced down the onslaught and dragged his team to victory. His loss to any team is unquantifiable and there is no doubt that Barcelona has felt his loss keenly.

I once heard a rugby coach say that every team is in transition, always. There is no static nature to sport. A team loses and gains players and with it some power ebbs or flows.

Karabatic’s move to PSG led to a raft of transfers, the most notable being Jicha in that position. The fact that he is not 100% fit hasn’t allowed himself to show what he can do. But whatever the problems facing Barca, you can see that they are not at the level of last year.

They have experienced a loss to RNL, a draw away to Kielce that should have been a win, but could have been a loss, a narrow win at home to Kristianstad and the harum-scarum nature of the win at home to KIF shows a team that really is in the belly of the beast.

Let me refer back to Kara. A major handball website recently ran with the headline, “No Karabatic, No France” no doubt paying homage to the classic Bob Marley hit “No Woman, No cry”. Could we substitute “No Kara, No Barca”.

The implication is that somehow without him you are not a team, that you are incapable of winning. This pre-supposes that somehow with Kara in your team that you will win. I refer back to Kiel CL final 2009, Montpellier quarter-final 2010 and Barcelona semi-final 2014.

His presence on each of these teams did not guarantee victory. His presence, in a team, is a major plus, but to believe that his absence means no chance is an insult to every player remaining.

But the worm is turning in the CL. Vardar are the visitors to the Palau Blaugrana and they will know that Barcelona is experiencing some difficulties in the transition. Saric is away on pre-Olympic duty with Qatar and the chances of a Vardar victory have never been higher.

However, the loss away to KIF, who seem to be enjoying a brief resurgence, was not a great result for the Macedonians. But this arena is a proud place. Had you watched the comeback from eight goals down against KIF, you would have seen a team that does not quit easily.

In a competition format where you can lose games and progress, Barca was not willing to lie down, curl up and go away. There is still pride there and fight and courage.

There is no doubt that the powerhouses of European handball are changing. Kiel is not what it once was. Kielce has not strengthened enough you would think. Veszprem, PSG and Vardar are the new kings on the street.

But this is Barcelona. Things may not be perfect, but the worm turns. What is a given truth today, may totally change tomorrow.

And if they begin the match, as we are used to seeing, at top pace, then the early bird might just get the worm.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator