SMaik pushes Machulla aside when he thinks about the Champions League, because of arduous journeys and English weeks. He says: “We are hungry to play there. This is the best and greatest that you can achieve. It’s great fun. I’m looking forward to the games against the top teams. If you’ve been there, you always want to go back. “
The great pleasure for the German handball clubs begins this Wednesday. The THW Kiel starts with the game at Meshkow Brest, on Thursday the SG Flensburg-Handewitt from Machulla plays against defending champions FC Barcelona. And there is good news for the fans: after a long time, some games of the German clubs can be seen again on free-to-air television – the station Servus TV is starting with the Kiel game. Nine more encounters follow.
The SG has caught a group with Paris, Barcelona, Kielce and Veszprem – all heavyweights among the seven preliminary round opponents, until the end of February the group winner jumps into the quarter-finals, while the second to sixth placed of the two groups move into the second round.
Just to avoid the stress of appointments in spring, reaching the first rank seems like the main prize. The THW got hold of the easier relay and is considered a favorite for the coveted top rank. Jicha’s team starts the new season with no injuries and no access – the best prerequisites for the hunt for all three trophies.
It’s not just the attractiveness of the opponents that makes the Champions League shine. Thanks to the TV and sponsorship agreement of the European Handball Federation, the competition is now offering attractive prizes for the second year. When the Kiel team won at the end of 2020, they made a total of around three quarters of a million euros. Even the way through the group stage is worth it. Champions League not only sounds good, it also fills the coffers. The national pursuers of Kiel and Flensburg know that too. SC Magdeburg and Füchse Berlin confidently name reaching the Champions League as a project; The Rhein-Neckar Löwen also want to go back there.
The second European competition, the European League, has been upgraded, but the prestige and income are clearly superior to the master class. With its budget of 7.5 million euros, the SG is dependent on this money. “That is why we expect the team to play in Europe every year,” says Flensburg managing director Dierk Schmäschke, “that should basically be called the Champions League, but it can also be the European League.”
There is no pressure, says coach Machulla: “We have worked out these expectations.” The Kielers with their budget of an estimated eleven and a half million euros even more. Despite all the discussion about the burden, both clubs cannot afford to forego the guaranteed seven home games in the Champions League, because their budgets are heavily funded by spectators. This is one of the reasons why the return of the fans to the halls is so fundamental.
Compete every three days to secure the budget: This is a vicious circle in which Flensburg was finally stuck and paid a high price – when it came down to it, Machulla only had three fit backcourt players. Only three of the seven backcourt players will be able to play against Barcelona on Thursday due to the absence of Rød, Søgard, Møller and Semper. At first Machulla has no choice but to appeal to the “unbelievable mentality” of the Flensburg team again. But it is clear to him: “We will not survive a season like the last.”