Danish club prematurely splits from Dutch star Estafana Pullman

Estavana Polman cheered after one of her many songs for the Esbjerg team. The love between the Danish club and the handball star has now largely subsided.Statue of Tibor Ellis / EPA

Handball player Estafana Pullman (29 years old) called Esbjerg her “homeland”, but after nine years she was forced to look for a new club. Her Danish club no longer sees that in her and hasn’t given her the chance to show if she can return to her old level. And despite the contract extending for another year, it is “not included in the plans for next season”.

Pullman said he received an email Monday evening informing her of the decision. “This is not the way I expected my time at the club to end,” she said in a statement. This makes her ‘very sad’, but the decision did not come out of nowhere: the separation between the club and the star player has been painfully clear in recent months.

Arnhemse has been playing for Esbjerg since 2013 and in that time has grown to become the big star of club and national team. She won the National Championship three times and is the club’s top scorer of all time. In 2019, she was named the best player in the World Cup in Japan, which the Netherlands won, but then she barely managed to play due to injuries.

In a statement released by the club, Pullman – known in the handball field for the unpredictability of a fighter mentality – is still affectionately referred to as “Issie”. She was praised for what she did for the club, but due to her injuries, she is increasingly second only to Esbjerg.

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Supporting role in the World Cup

Pullman has been struggling with her right knee since summer 2020. She has also missed the entire first half of this season after having surgery for the second time in a year. Against Esbjerg’s wish, she took part in the World Cup with the Dutch national team in December. She played a supporting role there without the rhythm of the competition. When she returned to her club, she barely got any time to play and resentment grew.

At the end of January, Pullman was already suspended for a week by the club, because she would have refused to participate in a duel in the Champions League, something the Netherlands itself denies. At the end of February, the Denmark Cup final, won by Esbjerg, erupted. At the end of the race, it was apparent that Pullman’s mother was arguing with the Esbjerg driver. The handball player herself then said that there was no contact with her. “At some point that’s enough, and I’m close.”

Esbjerg does not give a direct reason for the decision. In a statement, the club did not mention the continuous injury that she suffered as a result, as she became unable to work for most of last season and this season. In that period, Pullman was also regularly criticized for wanting to come back early, for example because she wanted to participate in the Olympics.

‘very sad’

Esbjerg coach Jesper Jensen announced a few weeks ago that Pullman is currently not at her old level. He then added that he was confident that things would be fine, but the drawn-out conflict had clearly infuriated the club. Its chairman, Bjarne Pedersen, said he was “very sad” that he was getting so much attention in the Danish media when he was doing so well.

In this remark lies the inconvenient truth of Pullman: during her long rehabilitation she has become less important. After she returned to the field, she needed more playing time, but the others were favorites and proved that Esbjerg could do without her.

Without a prominent role for her, Esbjerg won the cup, the team occupies second place in the league and advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Her place is now taken by the young Norwegian Henny Restad (23), who has been playing with Esbjerg since this year, and has become one of the stars. Her compatriot Nora Mork, one of the best handball players in the world, will also come to Esbjerg next season.

Pullman now has to find a new club. According to Esbjerg, there is interest in hiring her, but the club is also open to a rescission of the contract. The player says she hopes Esbjerg will call her to discuss what she will do until the summer of 2023. The handball player lives in Esbjerg with former soccer player Rafael van der Vaart, who has just started as a temporary coach at the local soccer club, where his son Damien also plays.

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