Damgaard: “You have to deliver, when it counts”
SC Magdeburg and Michael Damgaard have a new role to play in the upcoming season of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League; after a 16-year absence of European’s top flight competition, SCM were back in the 2022/23 season, and they came back with a bang, winning the Truckscout 24 EHF FINAL4 after two dramatic games, first beating Barça after penalty shoot-out 40:39 and then raise the trophy after beating Kielce 30:29 in the final including extra-time. The German side have gone from being the hunters, to the hunted.
Michael Damgaard was on a high when it mattered most; first, the Danish left back scored eight goals in each of the close quarter-finals against Wisla Plock, then he netted eight times against Barça and six against Kielce. “When it counts, you need to be ready to deliver. This is what you train for, to be on a high when it counts. In some matches, you feel that you will not score that many, sometimes, you are on fire, but in general I like to take the responsibility” says the 34-year-old striker, who has played for SC Magdeburg since 2015.
Winning the trophy means that SCM are the hunted in the new season – but this brings no additional pressure for Damgaard, “When we became German champions in 2022, we were the hunted in the Bundesliga, now we are the hunted in the Champions League. But I do not care about that fact, because even if we had not won the trophy, every team wants to beat Magdeburg. And we are used to this situation. But of course, It sounds really good, when you start a season as the winner.”
After a long-time participation in the EHF Cup (three-time winners) and EHF European League (winner in 2021), Magdeburg took a lot of experience into their venture into the EHF Champions League: “This is something special, mainly when you are successful. We gain experience on facing only top teams and how to play at a EHF FINAL4. Hopefully we can use this experience in the new season,” says Damgaard.
Magdeburg’s squad has changed in two positions: Goalkeeper Mike Jensen left to join Sporting CP, with Sergej Hernadez coming in the opposite direction. Also, Albin Lagergren (returning from Rhein-Neckar Löwen) replaced right back Kay Smits (now SG Flensburg-Handewitt). Playmaker Marko Bezjak has also left. “We are well-rehearsed, this was the key last season, when in the crucial stage, we could rely on our wide squad, which is necessary to be successful. But bringing in new players always means to adapt the style a bit. It is all about little things, but those little things finally decide, if you win or lose. And we have to learn, how those new players react under pressure,” says Damgaard.
After his shoulder injury which occurred at the EHF FINAL4, Magdeburg’s playmaker Gisli Kristjansson will be out for approximately six months, the FINAL4 MVP underwent surgery this summer. “We have plans, how to compensate this situation, all players have more responsibilities to carry. But we are used to doing so from last season already,”, Damgaard is optimistic.
In 2022/23, Kristjansson, his Icelandic countryman Omar Ingi Magnusson and Danish line player Magnus Saugstrup were ruled out for several months each. But is SCM stronger or equal compared to last season? Damgaard, “I can only answer this question, when some matches have been played.”
Regardless of the line-up, Magdeburg’s goals in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League are the same; “I would be disappointed, if we do not make it to Cologne again. But this way is really a tough one, as we got to know.” In group B, Magdeburg will lock horns with Barça and Veszprem as main contenders for the top spots – and those two sides are their first opponents on 14 and 21 September, respectively.
“We want to beat all teams. But I am sure, that all teams want to beat us, especially Barça will be hot on beating us after we beat them in the last three games. We are all handball players, and we want to win. Our group is strong, but the same applies to group A – there are only big names in the Champions League, and you always need to give 100 per cent to win a game, there will be no boring match,” says Damgaard.
The first aim is to make it among the top two teams in their group, like in the previous season, “When you skip the play-offs, you have two matches less, which means more regeneration in the crunch time of the season on one hand, and you avoid a round, in which you might get eliminated. We saw it in the last season, how important it is to finish first or second.”
And how realistic is another spot at the Truckscout 24 EHF FINAL4 for the defending champions in Damgaard’s opinion? "Once you were there, you always want to return. Of course, it is a great goal to make it again. But as I said, you have to deliver, when it counts."
Photo credit: Uros Hocevar / kolektiff, Jozo Cabraja / kolektiff, Franziska Gora/Jan Huebner