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EHF Champions League

This is me: Dominik Klein

Former THW Kiel left wing Dominik Klein is an EHF Champions League legend – and the last match of his career was the EHF FINAL4 final 2018 with HBC Nantes. Before then, Klein had reached six previous Champions League finals, winning three Champions League trophies, in addition to becoming world champion in 2007 and the most successful German player of his generation.

Former THW Kiel left wing Dominik Klein is an EHF Champions League legend – and the last match of his career was the EHF FINAL4 final 2018 with HBC Nantes. Before then, Klein had reached six previous Champions League finals, winning three Champions League trophies, in addition to becoming world champion in 2007 and the most successful German player of his generation.

Here is the story of his life, full of gratitude for what handball, and his handball family, gave to him, and how he is paying back now.

THIS IS ME: Dominik Klein

My last name means “little”, and when I was a kid, I was always the “little Klein” or nicknamed “Mini”. I was the smallest boy in our local handball team, so I was never nominated for any local or regional selections. Although I was right-handed, I had to play on the right wing when I started. It took some years until I found my place in the left-wing position.

But right from my youngest days it was obvious that handball would imprint my life. My mother was my first coach, followed by my father; my older brother Marcel was a playmaker, and even made it to the German youth and junior team. He was my first role model, I wanted to play like him. And later on, I became my little sister’s coach.

My family lived and breathed handball. Without them, I would never have made it in handball. This is why I am still so thankful for all their support – and every time I get asked about my career, I have to praise my family’s efforts. Everything you do later in life is rooted in your family, your education, your parents. You should never forget where you come from. From this perspective, my parents set the example for my life, and this is why I try to set an example for others now in my voluntary and charity projects.

We come from a little city called Obernburg, and we lived only two streets away from the playing hall. This is why I spent every free minute in this arena. I watched all matches there, and in the half-time breaks, I always had my handball in my backpack to run some counter attacks on the empty goal. I am sure this was the base for becoming a counter-attack specialist later.

Obernburg is close to the handball-crazy city of Großwallstadt, in former times one of the best teams in Germany and Europe. Of course we went there, and later, I saw my true role model there: Jackson Richardsson. My dream was to be like him, to play like him. There were many stars playing for Großwallstadt, but Jackson was the best ever.

At my home club Tuspo Obernburg, my youth coach Frantisek Fabian discovered my talent and he was the one from whom I learnt everything. Looking back, he was the most significant figure in my career. He coached me for almost 10 years, and not a single training session was the same as the one before. Frantisek never played handball and was a doctor of mathematics – this is why his preparation for every training session was unique.

He invested so much time in teaching us, to bringing something new to every session, and of course, it was not only about handball, but also education. He became like a second father to me. His training sessions were the base for everything in my career; although I was later coached by world-class coaches like Noka Serdarusic or Alfred Gislason, he was the one who had the most impact on my handball life. I owe him everything. Unfortunately, he passed away far too early.

With a double player licence I was able to play for two clubs, Obernburg and TV Großwallstadt, when I was a junior player, then I moved for two years to SG Wallau-Massenheim, with young coach Martin Schwalb. I got a lot of playing time and adapted to the Bundesliga quite quickly. As I had grown physically and tactically I had arrived in the left-wing position – and in 2003, at the age of 20 and without having played for any younger age category national teams, I had my first international match with the German men’s team under coach Heiner Brand.

Unfortunately, Wallau became insolvent, and I had to find a new club. I was phoned by Noka Serdarusic to join THW Kiel. For one season I returned to Großwallstadt as their local hero, and since then always wore the number 33 jersey, which was my lucky charm until the end of my career.

In 2006 “little Klein” made his huge step to enter the big handball world of Kiel. At this moment, no one would have known that I would play 10 years for this exceptional club, which still has the biggest place in my heart.

Right from the first season it was incredible and historic. We won the Champions League trophy in the finals against our local rivals Flensburg, we became German champions and German cup winners – we took all possible trophies. And in January 2007, I became world champion on home ground, winning this legendary final in my “second living room”, the LANXESS arena in Cologne. The former THW manager Uwe Schwenker said: “You should stop now, there is nothing more to win for you.”

I will never ever forget this year.

In the moment when we posed for photographers on the winners’ podium, Thierry Omeyer and Nikola Karabatic showed the number 2 with their fingers, as they just had won their second Champions League trophy after winning with Montpellier in 2003. Everyone else showed one finger for our first trophy. And then came our interim line player giant Andrei Xepkin – and he showed seven fingers for his seventh trophy. Simply incredible; this man only played for a few weeks with us, but he was like a father to all the young players. I am still in contact with this legend. These are the stories only handball can write.

THW extended my contract. I was so proud of this fact, playing in a team with Nikola Karabatic, Thierry Omeyer, Stefan Lövgren and later Marcus Ahlm and Filip Jicha. When you enter the arena and just look at those shirts and faces under the roof, you know what this club means. When you know 10,250 fans come for every home match to see you, and you feel and hear this special atmosphere in the arena, it sends shivers down your spine. At every match. This club, the players, the city, the fans – they mean so much to me. It did not take long for me to feel part of the DNA of THW Kiel, and the most successful era for this huge club was yet to come.

In 2010, we qualified for the first-ever edition of the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, and it was thrilling from the moment we arrived. On Friday night the new Champions League trophy, the metal arm, was introduced, and I felt quite unhappy. “How can you drink champagne out of it when you win on Sunday?” was what I said when asked what I thought about it.

We had lost the Champions League finals in 2008 and 2009 against Ciudad Real in an unlucky way. Now we played on neutral ground at Cologne, again against Ciudad Real in the semi-final. But when we entered the arena for our warm-up, we found out that this was anything but neutral ground. 75 percent of the 20,000 fans inside were for THW. We beat Ciudad Real, we won the final against Barcelona, and we managed to drink champagne from this trophy. Incredible memories!

Two years later we topped everything with our perfect season, we won all 34 Bundesliga matches and all German cup matches and we won the Champions League again. Me and my teammate Christian Zeitz became the first Germans with three Champions League titles; we are still the only ones.

I have so many great Champions League memories from this time. In terms of atmosphere, I still remember our 2012 semi-final in Cologne. We faced Füchse Berlin, and all clubs had their arena announcers with them to excite their fans. First the Füchse announcer came in front of the Berlin fan block and cheered with their fans. Then our announcer came, and almost three quarters of this fully packed arena with 20,000 people were yelling for us – simply incredible.

The second is the radio commentary of the last minute of the second leg of our final against Flensburg, when Kim Andersson scored the winners’ strike. It is simply incredible how this man conveyed his emotions to the listeners, who did not have a picture of what just happened in this arena.

And the third memory is after our unlucky defeat against Ciudad Real on home ground in the 2008 final. I was waiting in the anti-doping room together with Olafur Stefansson. We started talking and I told him that I wanted to exchange my shirt with their number 33, the legendary Didier Dinart. He called Dinart, and seconds later this colossus of a man jumped into this room, took off his jersey and handed it over. Despite the defeat, I was so happy.

I was so proud to be part of the history of the best handball club in the world. But the history in Kiel is also combined with my toughest injury, a torn cruciate ligament. I started my campaign #comebackstronger and I managed to do so after nine hard months. On 5 December 2015 I had my comeback, in the crucial Champions League home match against Veszprém, the MOTW with live commentary by Tom Ó Brannagáin. Five seconds before the end I scored the winners’ strike for 25:24. I’ve listened so often to Tom’s commentary, when he and the arena in Kiel seemed to explode.

After 24 trophies on the national and international stage, it was time to say goodbye to Kiel. In 2016 me, my wife and our son moved abroad for the first time, we went to Nantes and both played European cup competitions. When I arrived I did not expect these two years to be as successful as they were.

In the first season, we made it to the Last 16 in the Champions League. In 2018 we managed to make it to Cologne, and I had the unexpected chance of playing my seventh Champions League final. It was the last match of my career. We lost against Montpellier, but despite the defeat, I could happily look back on this career. Funnily enough I was defeated by Melvyn Richardsson, the son of my great idol Jackson. My wife, pregnant at this moment, my son and my family were there, this made me feel so happy and proud that I could forget the final defeat quite quickly. To finish my career in that particular arena, in which I had the biggest successes of my life, was the icing on the cake.

When you look back upon your career, of course you think about all the victories, all the times on the winners’ podium, about the parties after winning a trophy and how hard you had worked when you finally win something. But in the same way, you learn from defeats, they belong to sport like victories. As a team you find out what needs to be changed, what makes you stronger, which conclusions you have to draw. Our perfect season in 2011/12 was the result of learning from defeats. So never put your head into the sand, always carry on.

In summer 2018, my daughter was born and my focus had turned to being a family man. We moved to Munich, my wife’s home city. Already before the end of my career I had set the cornerstones for my future life. I had started working as a TV expert for German public station ARD, and I started working for the Bavarian Handball Federation as the director of their marketing department. And most importantly, I wanted to go back where it all had started for me, the foundations of handball – little clubs, young kids and voluntary work. Without all those volunteers in the clubs, handball is not possible. This is what I learnt in my life, and I wanted to pay back.

I had started several charity projects before, such as for the German Cancer Association, Plan International, being a “guardian angel” for people with mucoviscidosis or “Make kids stronger by sports”. In 2021, when all the world was hit hard by Covid, me and a friend started organising the “handball campus Munich”. We recognised that the kids had no relationship to sports and particularly handball anymore after the pandemic, and we went to kindergartens, schools and other institutions to bring kids back into action. We wanted to bring our excitement for handball to them. To see those kids back in handball makes me truly happy.

Besides, I was the ambassador for Munich at the 2019 Men’s World Championship, and would love to have the same role again at the EHF EURO 2024, when Olympiahalle in Munich is again a venue. After this handball boom, caused by the German team at the 2023 World Championship, I am really excited for this event.

But all those engagements must fit with my family. My wife Isabell was a former handball national player. I got to know her on the handball court – not indoors, but at beach handball. Isi comes from a handball family too, her mother was the driving force for beach handball in South Germany, and Isi was part of the famous Ismaning beach handball team when I met her at a tournament. She was European champion and world silver medallist in beach handball.

We were in a long-distance relationship until our son Colin was born in 2014. Before, our honeymoon trip was the only two weeks we were in the same place. She moved to Buxtehude when I had my last years at Kiel, then we had our first flat together when Colin was born. So now, we love our family life in Munich. My wife is an extraordinary person.

And with this family background I try to work with kids as often as I can. I did my C- and B-coaching licence, and maybe I will try to get my A level and EHF Master Coach diplomas later. But right now, I truly enjoy working with these young handball talents in Munich and Bavaria, to build a base for their development, to be an example of how “the little Klein” became a world champion and Champions League winner. Maybe other functions will wait in future, maybe I become a coach. My motto is “just try it and see how it works”.

And definitely, when I have more time, I would love to become an ambassador of the EHF project “Respect your talent” – a great and exciting initiative for young players. There is still more to come, and there is a lot to pay back.


Dominik Klein
February 2023

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