Strlek: It’s a privilege to play at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 againArticle
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INTERVIEW: Croatian international Manuel Strlek is no stranger to the VELUX EHF FINAL4, having won the title with Kielce in 2016. This year he will take on his former team in the semi-final, playing for Veszprém

Strlek: It’s a privilege to play at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 again

Telekom Veszprém HC are looking forward to their fifth participation at the VELUX EHF FINAL4  and are hoping this will finally be their year. After a disappointing season in 2017/18, reinforcements arrived and Veszprém started a new quest for both the VELUX EHF Champions League and Hungarian titles. 

One of the new names in the team at the beginning of the season was Croatian international Manuel Strlek. He quickly adapted to the new club and showed that everyone can count on him, scoring 50 goals in the top international competition.

The season did not start well for Veszprém and a new coach was introduced in October. After Ljubomir Vranjes left, David Davis took the helm. He believed in his players as much as they trusted him, and things fell into place. Veszprém fought hard in Group B and in the elimination round, at the same time aiming for wins in the Hungarian championship and Cup.

‘’The start of the season wasn’t that good, but we got back, especially in the Champions League,” says Strlek. “Unfortunately, we lost the Hungarian Cup, but the national league play-offs against MOL-Pick Szeged are ahead of us and we want to bring back the championship title. So all in all, we are on the right track, but without winning any title, it doesn’t mean much.”

Memorable part of the season

Manuel Strlek began his career in Zagreb and moved to Kielce in 2012. The six seasons in Poland were special for him, but he decided that 2018 was a year for a change. A new challenge came in the shape of Veszprém – and with the new club, the beginning of the 2018/19 season was unforgettable.

“The most memorable matches for me this season were the ones against my former club, Kielce. We opened the Champions League season against them in Veszprém Arena and that was something different. And I have to mention that tight win (36:35) in Kielce, which brought us second place in Group B,” says the 30-year-old wing. 

Return to Cologne

The Hungarian club is not new to Cologne, and nor is Strlek. All Veszprém fans still remember the final in 2016, when the Hungarian team lost to Kielce after a penalty shoot-out. It is a good thing that, this year, the valuable left wing is on their side. 

In 2016, Strlek scored four goals in the Polish team’s jersey and raised the trophy. Thanks to that outstanding performance, he also made the VELUX EHF Champions League All-star Team and was elected best Croatian handball player of the year.

This season, Strlek has again been nominated for the All-star Team. Fans can vote for the left back, and for all other All-star Team nominees, exclusively in the relaunched VELUX EHF FINAL4 app, which is available to download for iOS and for Android devices. Click here for an overview of all 50 nominated players and coaches.

Playing in Cologne is certainly something special for Strlek: “It’s a big honour and privilege to play at the VELUX EHF FINAL4. For me, Cologne is a festival of handball and I can’t wait to be there again.”

It seems Veszprém and Strlek cannot get away from Kielce. The two clubs were paired again at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 draw, for what will be their 12th head-to-head match, making the chase for the final and the 10-year anniversary winners’ trophy even more exciting. 

“Once more this season, we will face Kielce – this time in the semi-finals. It will be hard, especially when you look back at those two matches in the group, both with thrilling endings. Both clubs have a chance for the finals,” says the Croatian international.

‘’We will give 100% to reach our goal. Every player dreams of raising the Champions League trophy. We are aware it will be hard. Everything is possible in Cologne and emotions are always on the highest level. Handball is full of surprises and spectacular actions. That’s why we love this sport!” 

TEXT: Danijela Lemaic / cg