HC Erlangen's formula for success: think long-term, always push yourself to the limit
Four victories at the start, 9:3 points after five match days, the best start to the Bundesliga in the club's history: things are going well at HC Erlangen in the LIQUI MOLY HBL. But the Franconians are still humble: “We have played only a small part of a long season with many match days against unbelievably strong opponents in the best league in the world ahead of us. It's far too early to take stock,” says HCE coach Raul Alonso.
The German-Spaniard came to Erlangen as sporting director in the summer 2021, a few weeks after sensationally leading the Belarusians from Meshkov Brest to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The former youth coordinator of THW Kiel and later coach of Handball Tirol also took over the position of HCE’s head coach in January 2022 - and is now an important piece of the puzzle for success at the club.
For Alonso, the overall development of the team and the club is almost more important than the current results: "We have adapted many processes, the everyday life of the players has changed significantly, they have a completely different approach to our training, a different attitude towards their job and their passion for handball, give the maximum in every unit and are always ready to push the limit again and again."
The season schedule was good for Erlangen so far, but the preparations had already shown the team's upward trend: "We've had a really good feeling for a few months, and we've put that on the court with mostly good results so far, even if we didn't know exactly where we stand,” says Alonso.
After four victories at the start, Erlangen were defeated in Leipzig and at home drew against Melsungen last Sunday. "The team's great mentality showed when we turned a five-goal deficit into a draw. And we felt how great our fans were behind us, 4000 people were in the hall and pushed us forward. That was a great feeling, which shows that our efforts are being rewarded.”
Above all, Alonso is happy about the development of the team in all areas - athletically, tactically and playfully. The structure of attack is much broader now, instead of being dependent on one or two shooters, it is now much more about speed, the wings and the pivot. It is an advantage that his team usually only plays one game per week as therefore the coaching staff can work constantly on development: "Of course we prepare game by game, but we also focus on holistic development - it is perfect that the whole club is behind this long-term philosophy, and of course we are very happy about the results so far. In general, however, we still have to work on stability and consistency. And we have to learn to win games when we don't perform that well."
In the meantime after the best start ever, no higher goals have been set: “There are three to five teams that will always be at the top, behind them all the teams still have to sort themselves. We know where we come from and we have deliberately set different priorities, have invested a lot in the coaching staff, are now analyzing much more intensively and have put together the squad with great characters for long-term success. We want to get close to perfection with these new processes, even though we know that perfection doesn't actually exist," says Alonso.
In his previous clubs, this long-term development was the top priority for the coach, and he now wants to continue that in Erlangen: “If a concept works, the results will also work. But we know that in the best league in the world there is a final waiting for us every week, and you don't get victories for free - against any opponent. It's all a matter of attitude. But: It's not about single victories or defeats, it's about the whole.”
However, Alonso also knows that handball is a result sport in which this long-term approach is sometimes difficult to implement. "On this path you must not doubt your abilities." Reaching the REWE FINAL4 in the previous season has already shown that the current run is not a flash in the pan, but the product of hard work: "We want to continue to deliver dedication and professionalism."