Croatian Handball Team Is No. 4 In The World - Success Or Failure?

By 30 January 2017

The answer should be clear to anybody who has ever tried to compete in any competition, but in Croatia, it is always more about the emotions and the media influence than the facts itself

It was tough to see the Croatian players on the court of the Accorhotels Arena in Bercy on Saturday after they lost the bronze medal match to Slovenia. On January 30. 2017, as your reporter was getting back to his one and only homeland, he was on the same flight with the team.

They looked so down; I was not eager to approach them even for a photo, let alone to get a quote. Their faces were telling the story. Their emotions are understandable, as they lost two matches which felt as won already.

But to analyze the team’s appearance at the 2017 World Championship properly, there should be no room for emotions, and no matter how hard it is to swallow those tho defeats, it should be said that the team should be congratulated for the success in France.

The goal set up for the team before the tournament was the quarter-finals qualification. It was completed, and the team even did a step more and qualified to the finals. The details got Croatia to the fourth place, but the final match was just one penalty shot away. And not to forget, it was done with four starting players missing from the roster, and with a few injured players in it.

The other goal set for the team management was to build some confidence and experience to the young team. Some new players were promoted to the team and got their chance. The experience will be precious for them, as they are expected to be at their best at the next European Championship which will be hosted by Croatia next year.

And now we get to the bottom of it all.

As yours truly is familiar with the way of managing the sport in Croatia, it is evident that the “guillotine” is ready for the national coach Željko Babić, but it is prepared for the man who gave him the vote of confidence in the first place - Ivano Balić.

It seems that the puppet masters of the Croatian handball are exploiting the fact that the Croatian public has much more the emotional relationship with handball than a realistic one. And for that matter, it is the same relationship the public has with any sport. Heck, I will go out of order and say that the Croatian public runs on emotions, not the cold facts, and it is easily exploited by the people in power.

Ok, back to handball. The Croatian handball has a problem. That problem is not Željko Babić, nor Petar Metličić, and least of all Ivano Balić. One of the problems is an unrealistic perception of the Croatian team’s quality. Croatia has a bunch of high-quality players, but they are not walking on water, and they are not the best team in the World.

The other problem, and the main one, in my humble opinion, is the lack of competition within Croatia. When I started writing for TCN, as my first article published on your favorite news portal, I did the analysis of the problems for the team sport in Croatia. You can read it here, and the sad fact is that the most of the arguments made in that sad attempt of analytic journalism
stands one year later.

Croatia has one and a half serious handball club, and the one that means something on a continental level exploited the fact that Croatia once in a time adopted Maccabization as a way of managing national sport.

Traditional clubs in Croatia that produced players are struggling for survival, and some were ruthlessly executed, with a little help of the officials running both the biggest team in the country and the National Federation alike.

And now, those same people, after they promoted Ivano Balić to his position because he was simply too big of a name to be left aside in that particular moment, are doing everything in they power to relieve him from his current duty.

The fact is that those people do not stand to have somebody out of their complete control, and Ivano Balić, respectfully, is one of those characters. And he has to go for that reason only..

So let’s analyze his year and a half as a chief coordinator of all national teams. The A-team was on three big tournaments, has one bronze, the one fourth place, and one quarter-final. Not bad, if one adopts the fact that the Croatian players do not fly, do not walk on water, and the other nations play handball too.

The junior teams are pretty successful at their level, so U-18 team won the European Championships last year, beating France in the final match. Sounds good enough to Your’s truly.

And even if one would ignore all those facts, and even if one would adopt the opinion pushed by the media who are playing along with the sheriffs of Croatian sport that all this is to be considered a failure, there is a problem with the decision to sack Balić, or Babić for that matter.

How can one measure the success after just one year? The cycle for managing the sport team should be at least three or four years long, and all different decisions are just messing with the unwritten rules of sport management.

One has to wonder; if they gave the vote of confidence to Balić, what on Earth changed in such a short period? And the results are not even a nudge worse than it had been in the past.

The Croatian Handball Federation stands at the crossroads. Tomorrow, the federation board will decide about the future of Ivano Balić and his team. It will be much more, actually.

It will be the decision which will set the course for the Croatian Handball in the future. There are two paths possible; one is to leave the national team and the strategy of the Croatian handball to the handball legends or to follow the way the Croatian football is managed.

That other path is looking inevitable, but it seems that the Croatian sports lovers will not be really upset about it. The national team will continue to get the success which satisfies the basic needs, and not many people are concerned about the fact that the national team’s success is just a fig-leaf covering all that is bad in Croatian handball.