Gonzalez: “People won’t be happy until you win the Champions League”
Paris Saint-Germain Handball have chosen continuity. The current leaders of Machineseeker EHF Champions League group A announced Thursday that their Spanish head coach Raul Gonzalez extended his contract for two more seasons. Also, star player Nikola Karabatic will wear the PSG jersey for another year.
“My will and the club’s have always been to extend this mutual history that we started in 2015,” three-time EHF Champions League winner Karabatic says. “Along the years, we have proved that Paris Saint-Germain are one of the top clubs in world handball. I feel honoured to have the opportunity to play with this club until 2024.”
Gonzalez is in his fifth season as head coach of PSG. He speaks exclusively to eurohandball.com about his contract extension and why PSG remain one of the top clubs in Europe.
eurohandball.com: You have just extended your contract for two more seasons. How does it feel?
Raul Gonzalez: “When someone extends, of course everybody is happy, and I am. It is hard to find a club like Paris, talking about handball. I am more and more comfortable here, my family is really happy here and we have everything to work and make the right progress. Of course, having a happy family here in Paris was important. My youngest daughter is now studying here, she speaks French really well, way better than me, I must admit. We are very much a part of the Paris life now but the most important was, of course, the handball part.”
eurohandball.com: Looking back on the seasons since you arrived in 2018, what goes through your mind?
Raul Gonzalez: “I am used to working with my colleagues now and everything runs fine. It took me some time to adapt, of course, in the beginning. But Jota, my assistant, has been really helpful along the way. I will always praise him, he left Logrono back in 2018 to join me here, and I am very grateful for that. Now, everybody is going in the same way, everybody wants to win every game in every competition, and that is exactly my philosophy. I am feeling really well in Paris.”
eurohandball.com: In which areas has the club made progress since your arrival?
Raul Gonzalez: “I would talk about evolutions, more than progress. Handball changes really fast, from year to year, and the key is for everyone to be able to adapt. Looking at all the things you need to win, if something is not going right, you have to react quickly or it will get in the way, at some point or another. To keep your chances alive to win a trophy, every club needs to adapt to the new players and the opponents and so on. It’s the same in Kiel or Barça.”
eurohandball.com: Paris are about to lose yet another important player next season in Dainis Kristopans. What is your feeling about that?
Raul Gonzalez: “I was talking about adaptation earlier. Someone comes, then someone goes, and if a player goes, it means that we did a great job with him. Sure, Dainis is important to us, but in the meantime, the players that are going to come will be as important. The most important thing remains the club. Last summer, everybody was talking about Paris losing some great players, and I agreed, but still, here we are, second in the league and first in the group in the Champions League. It means that, no matter the players, we are still doing a great job. Also, that’s the life of a coach, I think it happens everywhere and that everybody has the same problem every summer. As a coach, I can’t think too much about what will happen in August, and I can only focus on today or maybe as far as the next game. The future is really far away, that’s the reality of a handball coach these days.”
eurohandball.com: Speaking of this season, and especially the EHF Champions League, are you satisfied so far?
Raul Gonzalez: “We delivered some great performances, but we lost a couple of games in the league. In the Champions League, we don’t know how fit the players will be after the World Championship, but I feel like we are in a good position to hold one of the two top spots in our group. Sure, we lost in Veszprém, but they will visit us for the last game of the group phase. I foresee a very tough game, but the first 10 games showed that we had the level to compete with the best teams in our group.”
Hearing the Champions League anthem is enough a motivation to get up in the morning when you are a coach. This competition changes the mindset of everyone, a player will forget that he is tired or that he has a minor injury, for example. I played for 17 seasons and never played the Champions League once. That tells you how hard it is just to play it.
eurohandball.com: How important is it for Paris Saint-Germain to extend Nikola Karabatic’s contract?
Raul Gonzalez: “Niko is one of the best players in the world, of the history of handball even. I don’t want to say THE best because that would not be fair to some others, but still… He can attack, he can defend, he can do everything on the court, and few players can do all of that with such quality. He’s got experience, strength and he makes a coach’s life easier. He’s also some kind of attraction, in the way that players can be attracted to the club to train with him. We have to enjoy his presence because we are very lucky to have him around.”
eurohandball.com: Keeping him for next season, is it some kind of message sent to the other clubs?
Raul Gonzalez: “It is a message to everyone: our opponents, the fans, our own players, the players that might want to come. Nikola remains one of the top players in that sport, even at his age and of course, it makes Paris even more attractive when he is with us.”
eurohandball.com: What do Paris miss to win the EHF Champions League?
Raul Gonzalez: “The Champions League has become a massive competition over the last 10 years. Before, only three or four clubs could win it, some years you would have the odd team joining the EHF FINAL4. But things are completely different. Eight or nine clubs can qualify for Cologne and no-one knows what happens there because the EHF FINAL4 is so crazy. The most important is to have the level to reach the quarter-finals, which I think we have again this season, and then we will see.”
eurohandball.com: Is it still something that you think about every day?
Raul Gonzalez: “Of course. Hearing the Champions League anthem is enough a motivation to get up in the morning when you are a coach. This competition changes the mindset of everyone, a player will forget that he is tired or that he has a minor injury, for example. I played for 17 seasons and never played the Champions League once. That tells you how hard it is just to play it. So to be there, competing for the EHF FINAL4 every season, is amazing.”
eurohandball.com: Not having been able to play it as a player, do you feel like you’re even luckier to coach in the EHF Champions League every season?
Raul Gonzalez: “Of course. This is a huge motivation for everyone in the handball world. Just think about that: I was playing for Valladolid, and that was far from a bad club back in the day. Playing the Champions League then would have been something surreal, but I didn’t. So, winning the French league with Paris, playing the Champions League and being able to compete at the EHF FINAL4, I don’t take that for granted. It remains a motivation to play it, because it makes an amazing life experience with a team, at the end of the day.”
eurohandball.com: Is it tiring that big clubs like Kiel, Veszprém, Kielce or Paris are almost only judged on their ability, or not, to win this trophy?
Raul Gonzalez: “Yes, but I can completely understand it. That’s the question that is asked to all the best teams in the world. Paris are one of them. You have to accept the fact that if you coach one of the biggest teams in the world, then people will not be 100 per cent happy until you win the Champions League. And then they are going to want you to win it a second time. And then a third. You have to accept it, it’s part of the job.”
Photos © 2023 Laurène Valroff, Julien Scussel, Eric Renard