7m | Dejan Manaskov: "With fans behind us and in one match – anything can happen versus Nexe!"

Dejan Manaskov

The biggest reinforcement arriving in Skopje this summer to sign with Vardar 1961 was Dejan Manaskov. After spending six seasons perfecting his craft in Germany and Hungary, it’s time for Dejan to jump in as a first-choice left winger for the "Red&Black" with Timur Dibirov no longer living in the Macedonian capital.

Manaskov is a well-known last name, not only in Macedonian handball but in the whole Europe. Dejan’s father Pepi was declared the best Macedonian handball player in the 20th century.

Dejan fell in love with handball at quite an early age. He was born in Creteil, France where his father used to play at the moment later on living in Germany until the age of six. After that, they move to North Macedonia where he goes to his first handball practice at the age of seven. Upon returning to North Macedonia, he joins Borec Veles before transferring to Metalurg’s Academy at 15. Dejan used to play as a middle back until the age of 15 when Lino Cervar calls him for the senior squad where Naumche Mojsovski and Filip Mirkulovski were already solidified as the first two playmaking options which leads Manaskov to the left wing. He received his first call-up for the national team with coach Ljubomir Savevski in command back in 2012 ahead of EHF EURO in Serbia where North Macedonia managed to win the historic fifth place.

The news of your homecoming exploded like a bomb in North Macedonia. Why Vardar 1961?
After the injury I had last year, I honestly didn’t plan to come back home at the beginning, but everything kind of happened fast and I had to make up my mind quickly, so I thought about it and decided to say "yes".

You played for Vardar at the beginning of what is now referred to as a "golden era" for the club. The situation is however quite different now. How hard will it be to achieve goals that are set?
The season is long and the most important matches will come in the second half of the season. The main thing starts after January when we will have to play Eurofarm Pelister and some other teams for the domestic title. We are still waiting for some injured players to come back and we will have enough time to get in the right shape with no EHF Champions League handball on our schedule for this season.

With this team, can Vardar be champion again in North Macedonia and reach the SEHA throne?
Of course we can, and we’re all striving for that. We have some really good players now with younger guys joining the roster this season which means we’ll have a mix of experience and potential. With the right attitude, mindset and chemistry – a lot can be achieved. The team is the one that plays out there – not the individuals.

Will you miss playing in European competitions?
Ever since I turned pro, there has not been a single season in which I wasn’t playing in the EHF Champions League. There is a first time for everything but I guess it can turn out to be a good thing for me as I will have time to get into the right rhythm.

With Timur Dibirov gone, you’ll have some big shoes to fill. Do you feel extra motivation or even pressure because of that?
If I was 5-10 years younger maybe that would put pressure on my shoulders but now, I know who I am. Whenever I’m out there I’m playing my own game. We can’t all be the same but I believe I can help the team.

Did you manage to get used to the new club already after spending the last few seasons in Hungary?
I’d say I adapted quickly. Here in Vardar we’re still trying to take care of that Spanish playing style we inherited from some of our coaches in the last few years. The story was more-less the same in Veszprem. There is always a little "Balkan" in the equation but yeah, I feel like I managed to get used to everything already.

Your father is a Macedonian handball legend and your brother is now playing for a team from Skopje. What does a family lunch look like?
It’s not allowed to talk about handball. When I was younger it was more of a rule. After many years we’ll be together again and we’ll have more time to talk. My father used to critique me a lot but also guide me through the process. I’m an adult now so I don’t mind.

A duel with Nexe as a part of SEHA - Gazprom League quarter-finals follows. What will, in your opinion, decide who moves on to the final tournament?
We are playing at home so I expect fans to be there. Branko Tamse is Nexe’s coach so we can expect them to try to run the court as fast and as good as possible. The goal will of course be to reduce the number of technical errors and take care of the defensive transition. As I said, with fans behind us and in one match – anything can happen.

The results of the entire season will be summarized somewhere in May. Where do you see Vardar at that time?
I’m expecting us to fight Eurofarm Pelister for the title here in North Macedonia. We have a new system in place but those two or three matches will once again be key. I feel like the goal right now is to complete the roster puzzle and then chase the title from January.