“We will fight to play the last game of the season”
A self-declared admirer of the Balkan and Eastern European culture, Swedish coach Per Johansson has been living the dream over the past five years. Everything started with the appointment at CSM Bucuresti, in 2017 — his first-ever adventure outside of Scandinavia. Since then, Johansson had a stint as the Montenegro women’s national team coach, returned to CSM two times and signed for Rostov-Don in the autumn of 2020.
The big prize, the DELO EHF Champions League crown, has evaded Johansson and the teams he coached, but he is still going for it full gas. A coach that wears his heart on his sleeve and never one to fail to speak his mind, Johansson is facing another challenge, with big expectations for Rostov this year.
Last season, the Russian powerhouse were eliminated from contention in the premium European competition in the quarter-finals and lost the domestic championship to arch-rivals CSKA.
But, right now, everything is in play. And for Johansson, the second game of the season in the DELO EHF Champions League, which sees a visit to his former team CSM Bucuresti, is of the utmost importance. He knows the Romanian side intimately and worked with their coach, Adrian Vasile, both at CSM and with the Montenegro national team. Johansson and Vasile are good friends, but for 60 minutes, everything will be forgotten on the court.
eurohandball.com: You have already been at Rostov-Don for a season now. How difficult was the first and what are your expectations for this one?
Per Johansson: First of all, I learnt a new culture. I have been in Eastern Europe for a while now, but these countries are different. I learnt a lot here, I adapted to the system and, from my part, we did a very, very good season until the last month, where we had plenty of problems with the injuries we developed.
If we judge a season by the whole, I think we did good. Of course, the disappointment was big after the end, but, all in all, it was a good learning experience for the future.
eurohandball.com: What’s the plan for this season? The ambitions are high at Rostov, are they not?
Per Johansson: I know the ambitions are big, but we also have a few issues that need to be fixed. Hopefully a few months together developing as a team will make us stronger. Of course, the absence of the best player in the world, Anna Vyakhireva, is huge for us, because she is a player who you win titles with and this definitely represents a big blow for Rostov-Don.
But our team has never won the DELO EHF Champions League and Russia have only won it once, through HC Zvezda Zvenigorod. Obviously, the ambitions and the expectations are always high. It will always be like this and what I can promise is that we will fight to play the last game of the season, in the the DELO EHF FINAL4 in Budapest.
eurohandball.com: Rostov have been active on the transfer market. You brought in experienced players like Eduarda Amorim and Beatrice Edwige. How did your defence improve?
Per Johansson: I think we have the chance this year to create the best defence in women’s handball with such talented and experienced players. We had a good roster for the defensive part of the game, with Anna Sen, Ksenia Makeeva and Anna Lagerquist, ahead of others, but we definitely brought two important players. For the defensive part of the game, I am definitely pleased and I can say that the defence will be the big plus for us, because we can also do some rotations and surprise opponents.
eurohandball.com: But in attack Anna Vyakhireva’s absence will be a blow, as you previously said. How difficult was it for you to recreate the attack?
Per Johansson: I have talked with Anna before this summer about her plans, about her wishes. I surely accepted her decision and respected it, because she is a young player but had such a very long and accomplished career. We knew this, but unfortunately we were not able to recruit any left-handed right back — maybe not at her level, because that would be impossible — but a substitute who could have fitted right in. We will definitely miss Anna, but we will see what happens. We have Yaroslava Frolova back and ‘Duda’ Amorim can cover that position, but the right back position for us is not at the level that should be.
eurohandball.com: Let’s talk about CSM Bucuresti for a second — this is your second homecoming. You won against them last year in Bucharest. How will this game be for you?
Per Johansson: I am a bit disappointed because the game will not be played in the Sala Polivalenta, the usual venue for CSM, but in Dinamo Arena. I have very good memories from Polivalenta. That arena gave me so much. Coming back to Romania brings me very good vibes, because Bucharest is a beautiful city, I have so many friends there and I like it a lot. For me, it is always good to come back. Now, unfortunately, due to the regulations, I will be there for only two days. I was hoping to be there three or four days, but I will enjoy it to the maximum.
eurohandball.com: You have a very good friend in Adrian Vasile, CSM’s coach. His situation is not the most pleasant, after the Romanian side lost against Esbjerg in the first game of the season. Did you talk to him prior to this game?
Per Johansson: Well, this is a special situation for both of us, so we did not talk so much. We are just preparing for this game and I know him very well, he likes his trade and will do everything in his power to enable CSM to win against Rostov. Regarding the match against Esbjerg, I have watched it and, well, this is why handball is so enjoyable for the fans. You have matches in which teams deserve to win, but they lose and vice versa. The match against Esbjerg was CSM’s to lose and, unfortunately for them, they lost it, despite deserving to win it. In the end, it looks like a game could be a lottery and they lost it last week. I feel sorry for him and especially for him that his team lost.
eurohandball.com: You will forget about your friendship for 60 minutes, correct?
Per Johansson: Listen, Adi Vasile is a great friend of mine. We spent plenty of time together. We enjoyed it a lot. I have even celebrated Easter with him and his family and learnt a lot about Romania. We will always be friends, but when the whistle is blown, for 60 minutes, we will only focus on the game. We will not be enemies, yet I want Rostov to win and he will want to beat me. He did not win against me, so this will be a motivation for him. But, after the end of the match, we will still be friends.