Hungary unites, the EHF Champions League divides Martin and ElekArticle
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FEATURE: A couple of months ago Györ head coach Ambros Martín and FTC’s Gábor Elek became the joint helm of Hungary’s national team, but on Saturday they will sit on opposing benches, fighting for victory in the EHF Champions League Quarter-finals

Hungary unites, the EHF Champions League divides Martin and Elek

Since Ambros Martin arrived in Györ in 2012, his team won every Hungarian trophy but one.

In 2015 long-time rivals FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria snatched the title from the injury-hit holders and became champions for the first time in eight years.

The latest episode of the clash of these top European teams proved that the days of easy victories for Györ are gone and FTC will be opponents able to match their counterparts – and that is also courtesy of the man courtside in Budapest.

Gábor Elek is a club legend at FTC and has been in charge since 2008. The 45 year-old tactician grew up with handball all around him, his mother Anna Rothermel became world champion and reached the Champion’s Cup final with Ferencváros in 1971. The coach at the time was Gyula Elek, his father.

It seems an FTC dynasty of great players and successful coaches is in the making as Gábor Elek’s partner has been centre back Zita Szucsánszki for some years now.

Martín’s tenure at Györ is obviously shorter, but during his years at the helm the Spaniard became the club’s most successful coach.

The club had a painfully strange tendency of losing finals – they finished as runners-up in seven European competitions before Martín took over – but winds changed with the former Itxako coach and Györ finally made it to the top, winning the Women’s EHF Champions League in 2013 and even defending their title in 2014.

By the time team captain Anita Görbicz lifted the EHF Champions League trophy for the second time in a row, Györ had won every domestic cup and national championship since 2005 and 2008 respectively.

Mutual respect

There’s no doubt Ferencváros’s league success in 2015 was partly the result of Győr’s heavy injury crisis, yet it is also obvious that FTC became a force to be reckoned even at international level.

“Györ had enormous troubles last year, there’s no need to deny that, and we had to give our best to beat them in the final,” says Elek.

“It is also obvious that we are the underdogs in the Champions League quarter-final, too. Győr signed excellent players last summer and their defence is hard to shoot through. In fact they have the tallest wall in the world.”

Ambros Martín on the other hand expects two even games. “Ferencváros are a great team and I don’t think we are heavy favourites.

“It’s 50:50 in my point of view and I have nothing but respect for FTC, who beat us for the Hungarian title last year,” says the Spanish coach.

“Consider that they did not lose a single home game this season having played hosts to Rostov-Don, Larvik and Baia Mare. Our aim main target is to be the first team that can win an away game against Ferencváros, but a lot will depend on who will have a better day. There are two sets of great players, so current form will be decisive.”

Györ have the upper hand

Since FTC conquered the Hungarian throne last year, the two Hungarian heavyweights met three times. Győr won the Supercup, then the Budapest outfit maintained their perfect home record in the championship by a one-goal victory.

The re-match proved Györ have the upper hand and even Elek acknowledged that after his team suffered a heavy defeat 33:22 in Győr.

“Our clash in the Women’s EHF Champions League quarter-final is a totally different story.

“It’s the best of eight and FTC have claimed their place among the elite teams with some great performances. We are well aware of the threat they pose. Our players have to be on top, if we want to achieve a good result,” saya Martín.

Gábor Elek has only one question that he keeps asking his players.

“I’m content with our season so far but I’m the only one who is allowed to feel this way. I keep asking my players: have you had enough? If they say yes we’d better just give up, but fortunately everybody is eager to keep fighting.

“And rightly so because there’s still room to improve especially as far as away performances are concerned.

“Our fanbase provides us with one of the hottest arenas in Europe and we are proud to fight for them but we need to play better away from home.”

Leading Hungary together

As coincidence sometimes goes, it is not only rivalry that marks the two coaches’ relationship.

In February this year both were named as interim head coaches of Hungary’s women’s national team, tasked with leading the squad to the Women’s EHF EURO 2016.

In their first two matches they first won at Poland 27:24, but then lost the return match 26:25.

 And it seems that that coaching opposing teams does not necessarily results in contrasting views and does not prevent friendship – at least on the professional level.”

“Not only he is one of the best coaches in the world, he is a nice guy, too,” Elek says about Martín.

“We share the duties in the national team, he is responsible for defence and I take care of the attacking side, and I believe we formed a healthy working environment.”

Martín absolutely agrees: “There’s mutual respect between us and it was a great experience to coach the national team together with a fellow professional.

“Frankly, we never had any problems with each other when we were opponents, the defeated always shook hands with the winner. Like it should be.”

TEXT: Bence Martha / ts