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1 month ago - 3/18/2019

Can Nantes weather the storm?

After reaching the final of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2018 in only their second season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, HBC Nantes are back in the Last 16 again.

They finished fourth of Group B, behind Paris Saint-Germain, MOL-Pick Szeged and SG Flensburg-Handewitt, a good performance in the group phase.

But in the last few weeks, some off-court issues regarding the near future of the club have arisen. Could it have an impact on Nantes’ confrontation with Rhein-Neckar Löwen? The first leg of their Last 16 duel takes place in Germany on Wednesday at 19:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com), followed by the return in France on Saturday, 30 March.

Some of the most important persons will leave the club

Slowly the rumours started to become more than just whispers on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Over the last two weeks, Nantes announced that some of their most important persons of the last years will leave the club in 2020.

The departure from Nicolas Tournat to PGE Vive Kielce had already been set in October 2017, while Romain Lagarde’s transfer to Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Nantes' upcoming Last 16 opponents, was officially confirmed last month.

And now, the club announced that the contracts with Nicolas Claire, the talented centre back, and coach Thierry Anti will also not be extended after the 2019/20 season. Obviously, the news sparked some tension in the media, and then also on the court. Money and egos have come into account and it was getting to everyone in the team.

“I just hope the players won’t start shredding each other to pieces now,” Anti said recently after a tough loss to PSG in the French league.

It has not become physical yet, but some of the people involved don’t seem to be happy about their fate. In French media, Anti said he felt “like a beggar” in front of club president Gaël Pelletier when he learnt he wouldn’t get a contract extension. And that he could not understand why the collaboration between him and the club had to end.

And Claire said he would rather get a transfer this summer than having to play one more year with the club knowing he will be leaving in 2020.

A new cycle is starting in Nantes

It is a new cycle starting in Nantes. Anti has been with the club since 2009, Claire arrived in 2013. “The team will have a totally different face in 2020,” said Anti, aware of the simultaneous departures of Tournat and Lagarde.

For the situation to unfold in the build-up to the first game of the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 is a pity. But the timing for this kind of news is never ideal.

President Pelletier had no other option as people were going to be unhappy anyway. Things were going to be said. There is so much passion in this club that every member of the team and the staff take everything to their hearts. Anti feels like he will not be able to enjoy the fruit of his labour, after 10 years spent at the club. But his role now is to keep everyone focused.

Will the turmoil have an impact on the end of the season for Nantes? It remains to be seen how the players we will deal with the situation. Nantes have landed in bad weather - and at possibly the worst time of the season.

Powerhouses can often refocus quickly and concentrate on upcoming tasks. In two weeks’ time it will be clear if ‘Le H’ is one of them.

Author: Kevin Domas / ew