Köster: A tall talent on the rise
It was a major surprise for many when Germany head coach Alfred Gislason unveiled his squad for the EHF EURO 2022 – as it included a 21-year-old second division player: Julian Köster.
But this rising talent of German handball has proved that it was worth nominating him, particularly in Germany’s 30:23 win in their last preliminary round match against Poland, when he scored six goals and was awarded Player of the Match.
“This award was the icing on the cake for me,” Köster says.
“I hope that all who had doubted my decision to bring him to the EURO now understand my decision,” Gislason said, adding: “For me, his performance is no sensation. Julian plays every day like this.”
Köster is the youngest player in the German EHF EURO 2022 squad. He made his debut in the senior team in two test matches against Portugal in November 2021, and the match against Poland was his seventh in the German jersey.
“When I arrived here, I only told myself: do not think that much, just do what you can. And so far, this tournament is running incredibly for me,” Köster says.
After finishing the first stage with three wins, Germany lost their main round opener 23:29 against Spain on Thursday – and now face Norway on Friday (20:30 CET, live on EHFTV) in Bratislava. They still have a chance to proceed to the semi-finals despite getting hit hard by Covid. Norway beat Poland 42:31 on Thursday, and have two points, like the Germans, prior to this crucial duel.
Against Spain, Köster had a brilliant start, scoring twice in the opening part of the match, but then like the whole team, was chanceless against the defending champions.
“Julian is a very complete player in attack and defence, he can score, he can defend, and despite his tallness is a very movable player in one-against-one-actions. But overall, I see his strengths in defence,” praises Gislason.
“We know what Julian is capable of – this is why he is in our squad.”
Köster’s talent was firstly discovered in a training camp for a regional youth selection, when the coach was Erik Wudtke. Wudtke nominated Köster for this regional selection, then became German youth national team coach. Köster was in the team which became silver medallists at the U19 World Championship in 2019, and was All-star Team member as best defender. Now, Wudtke is Gislason’s assistant coach.
“I owe Erik so much, he played a great role in my career,” Köster says.
In 2020, the young player joined second division team VfL Gummersbach, and became a core player for the former German champions and EHF Cup winners.
“I watched all of Julian’s matches at Gummersbach in the last 18 months, and he always impressed me,” says Gislason.
Gislason’s compatriot Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson – still all-time top scorer of the EHF EURO – is Köster’s coach at club level.
“Goggi really cares for Julian’s development, he did a great job to bring him forward,” Gislason says of Sigurdssson, who he coached both in the Icelandic national team and at Gummersbach and Kiel on club level.
“I learnt so much from Goggi, he is the most professional person I ever met,” Köster adds.
In 2019 Köster suffered a severe knee injury, which kept him off the court for almost a year until summer 2020 and his transfer to Gummerbach. However, in October 2021, he was called for his first training camp with the national team – which was, he says, “a complete surprise to me”.
But since then, he is part of the team, and has received much praise from all sides.
Köster’s role model is Croatian Domagoj Duvnjak, as he plays in the same position in defence and attack.
“Duvnjak is the best player in the world, when it comes to the player in front of the offensive defence,” says Köster.
Köster himself could become a role model for others sooner than one might have expected. He is friends with the youngest player on Germany’s national football team, Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz, who had his first cap at the age of 18 last year.
“We were at the same school, we are good friends. His mother was my first handball coach,” explains Köster.
Now, as Wirtz prepares for his major tournament debut at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year, perhaps he will look to Köster for advice and inspiration.