CSM’s paradox: Why a brilliant team strugglesArticle
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: The Romanian champions started the EHF Champions League season with huge ambitions but two defeats brought them back to earth. What is going on with one of the title contenders?
»2018-19 Women's News

CSM’s paradox: Why a brilliant team struggles

The best teams will always find themselves under a microscope. Win big, and everything is OK. Show some cracks in the armour, and things can get only better. Fail to win, and expect a load of criticism as the sky-high expectations crumble at the player’s feet.

It’s not uncommon in team sports, where a collection of individual stars fail to gel and create a team in the actual sense of the word; players are preaching the importance of team spirit and unity, yet the semantics look lost in translation and the plans put on paper failing to materialise.

This season, CSM Bucuresti seem to be the underperforming team while looking to repeat their win from the Women’s EHF FINAL 4 in Budapest in 2015. But why are they struggling?

A hard situation at the club

For the past two years, CSM have had one of the biggest budgets in the Women’s EHF Champions League, but finished the competition in third place twice, while changing the coach seven times.

The problem with the Romanian powerhouse is that they won the trophy while being an underdog, failing to appear on the big guns’ radar. They took the Women’s EHF FINAL 4 by storm to win against Vardar and Györ on their way to the gold medal.

The teams have taken that into account and now CSM are not the hunters, but the hunted. Players have come and gone and their 2018/19 incarnation features seven players from former Yugoslavian countries. CSM have gone all-in for the Balkan flavour, bringing in four players from Vardar: Andrea Lekic, Barbara Lazovic, Jovanka Radicevic and Dragana Cvijic.

Yet the results are far from what everyone expected. CSM lost the domestic Super Cup against SCM Ramnicu Valcea, a home game in the domestic league against the same opponents, and two games in the Women’s EHF Champions League, against SG BBM Bietigheim and Vipers Kristiansand.

“The situation at the club is hard right now, it is clear that we are not at our best. When we win, it is important, because every win counts and we are not feeling the way we wanted,” says Cristina Neagu, the Romanian left back who scored 44 goals in five games for CSM.

The loss against Kristiansand was especially painful and the Romanian powerhouse really needed to get back on track against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, in a pivotal game for the team’s future. CSM were flawless in attack, scoring 34 goals, and took the important win (34:28). It earned them a berth for the main round, where they will start with six points.

“We needed to put a smile on our faces, because we suffered a lot this season in which we lost four matches and that is not possible,” adds Neagu.

No team spirit on the defensive end

Therefore, the potential is there, but there are still lingering issues which will likely resurface when CSM are put under pressure. It is a bit of the renowned ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ story in CSM’s season, with a struggling team that can be a juggernaut, but also fall at the first hurdle.

While the Romanian side may boast the third best attack in the competition, with Neagu and Lekic starring in the offensive sets, CSM has one of the worst defensive records in the competition and by far the worst when compared with the other favourites to win the title.

The signs were there from the start, after the Romanian champions won the first game of the season, 36:31, against FTC. The joy was blurred and the outspoken Neagu had something to say from the get go.

“We need to be more focused in defence, because we should not expect to score more than 30 goals per game, irrespective of the opponent. We need more on the defensive end,” Neagu said.

However, the improvements were minimal and CSM’s best defensive performance was in their win against Vipers, 29:27, when they only went full throttle in the second half.

The team looked in disarray over large chunks of time, while the goalkeepers were not in top form though they recovered in the last two matches, against Kristiansand and FTC.

A tough job for Djukic

Changing the coach after only three games initially didn’t do CSM any favours. Dragan Djukic took over from Magnus Johansson, but the Serbian coach needed time, highlighted by the shocking home loss to Kristianstad two weeks ago.

But meanwhile the players have responded well to his methods. The authority was restored after a heated exchange featuring Djukic and fellow Serbian line player Dragana Cvijic in a Romanian League game against Slatina, when the coach asked Cvijic to stop talking during a timeout and show grit and determination on the court.

“Against FTC was a ‘to be or not to be’ match for us, actually everything depended on this match. I am happy because of how we reacted to that, and I am happy because we played as a team,” Djukic said.

The well-travelled coach knows a thing or two about discipline and that is the main reason why he was chosen by CSM to replace Johansson.

Now, Djukic’s challenge is to ensure that CSM is more disciplined, and to create the team chemistry that the side badly needs.

It might be the toughest job Djukic has had in his entire career.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew