“I’m the next to say goodbye”Article
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The veteran Swedish star of THW Kiel, Stefan Lövgren, talks to Eurohandball.com in the third part of our portrait interview series.

“I’m the next to say goodbye”

Stefan Lövgren

Born: 21.12.1970 in Partille (Sweden).
Family: Married, has a daughter (Thea) and a son (Linus)
Playing position: middle back
Clubs: Skepplanda BTK (Sweden), Redbergslid Göteborg (Sweden), TV Niederwürzbach (Germany, 1998), THW Kiel (since 1999).
Honours – on club level: Champions League winner 2007, German champion 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, German Supercup winner 2005, 2007, 2008, German cupwinner2000, 2007, 2008,winner of the EHF Champions Trophy 2007, Champions League finalist 2000, 2008 , EHF Cup winner 2002, 2004, five times Swedish champion with Gotheborg
Honours – with Sweden: 269 international matches / 1138 goals
World champion in 1999, silver medallist at WCH 1997 and 2001, bronze medallist at WCH 1995, best player of WCH 1999 and WCH 2001, European Champion 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2002, silver medallist at Olympics 1996 and 2000, member of the All-star teams: Olympics 2000, EURO 2002, WCH 1997, 1999, 2001

He’s one of the most successful players ever: Stefan Lövgren. Four times European champion, World champion, silver and bronze medallist at World championships, two-time Olympic medallist with Sweden.

On a club level he won the Champions League, he was 11 times champion in Sweden and Germany, won two EHF cup and several national cup titles.

At the end of the season “Lion” (his nickname) will finish his great career at THW Kiel, where he has been playing since 1999 and where he’s been the captain since 2001. Lövgren will return to Sweden and work for a school.

Before quitting his career, he took some time to talk to Eurohandball.com about his life. Read what Lövgren said in an interview with Björn Pazen.

Eurohandball.com: Although you’re 38, you’re still one of the best players in the Bundesliga. Why don’t you play another season?

Lövgren: There are many reasons behind my decision. At first, it’s the age. My bones hurt, so it’s time to say goodbye. Then there are also private reasons: my kids will start school this year and they should do it in Sweden. In addition, I found a new job in Sweden – so everything fits together to say goodbye.

Ten years in THWEurohandball.com: When did you finally make up your mind?

Lövgren: In fact, I wanted to finish last season, but my club persuaded me to stay another year. Then it was absolutely clear that it’ll be my last season in handball and in Kiel.

Eurohandball.com: How many times were you asked to stay another year?

Lövgren: The club knows my point of view and they respect my decision. Of course, there were some talks about my future, but most of them just jokingly.

Eurohandball.com: Back to the start of your career: when did you know that you would become a professional handball player?

Lövgren: It was around 1996 or 1997, when I was first asked to play abroad. But it took two more years to move to Niederwürzbach in Germany. I wanted to try whether I would be able to play handball on a professional level.

Eurohandball.com: Was it always a dream to you?

Lövgren: Oh no, that was never my dream. As a little boy I wanted to be professional football player – just like any other boy at that age.

Eurohandball.com: What do you think the fascination of playing handball is?

Lövgren: It’s an absolutely complex sport where tactics are very important. It’s dynamic and quick. A handball match can never be boring in contrast to other sports. There’s action on court all the time.

Professional handballer at the endEurohandball.com: In Gothenburg, where you played before Germany, you were a big star. Did you hope to stay abroad for such a long time when you first came to Niederwürzbach?

Lövgren: When leaving your country, you feel some kind of security. You say to yourself: you can go back if it doesn’t run well. So I said to myself: let’s try it in Germany for one or two years, it was like a small adventure for me. But in the end it turned out to be much more than a small adventure.

Eurohandball.com: What’s the difference between handball in Sweden and Germany?

Lövgren: There’s no professional league in Sweden; all players have private jobs. The halls are smaller and there are fewer spectators. But in Sweden we have well educated coaches and very good youth sector programmes. And Germany takes benefit from all these talents.

Eurohandball.com: You have been playing for Kiel for 10 years. What does continuity mean to you?

Lövgren: When you’re Scandinavian and you play for Kiel, continuity is very easy. You’re not so far from home and you play for the best club in the world. At the time in Niederwürzbach I wanted to sign with a real top club. There was no better choice than going to Kiel.

Eurohandball.com: During your period at THW, did you ever think of leaving the club?

Lövgren: I was asked by some clubs, but that was never a valid idea for me. I always wanted to stay in Kiel.

Captain of THWEurohandball.com: You played together with a lot of famous handball players in Kiel. Who was your favourite?

Lövgren: You can’t compare players such as Magnus Wislander from the past and Nikola Karabatic. Handball developed so much and those were totally different generations of players. So from the sportive point of view, I can’t single out a favourite player. From the personal point of view, I would mention Staffan Olsson, Johan Pettersson and Nikolai Jacobson.

Eurohandball.com: When Wislander and Olsson finished their career in Kiel, you became the most important player of THW. Was it an easy transmission?

Lövgren: I was the captain in the last season of Wislander already. So it was easy, it didn’t change from one day to another.

Eurohandball.com: Do you rate yourself on the same level as Magnus Wislander?

Lövgren: You can’t compare any handball player in the world with Wislander. He was voted the Player of the Century. It’s the same with comparing teams: you can’t compare the current THW team with the one led by Wislander.

Eurohandball.com: Is it pride or is it a burden to be the captain of THW Kiel?

Lövgren: I’m so proud of being the captain, especially as I have been in this position since 2001. This shows that they’re satisfied with my performance.

Eurohandball.com: Do you exactly know how many titles you won with THW Kiel?

Lövgren: No, please tell me.

16 titles - too many to keep in mindEurohandball.com: 16.

Lövgren: Ok, this is a great number.

Eurohandball.com: Which success was the most important for you?

Lövgren: The first title you win with a team is always the most beautiful and always something special. But if I have to pick a title, I would say the Champions League title in 2007. We had to wait so long to get this trophy. It was a great feeling to raise the trophy.

Eurohandball.com: Except for the Olympic gold medal, you won everything a handball player can win with his national team. Are you still disappointed about losing two Olympic finals with Sweden?

Lövgren: I don’t wake up in the night thinking about these finals, but I always think about it when someone talks about the Olympics. It’s very disappointing to lose two finals. But somehow I got to play two finals, while most handball players don’t even reach one.

Eurohandball.com: In 2006, after Sweden missed the qualification for the World Championship in Germany (against Iceland), you retired from the national team. Was the frustration too big?

Lövgren: I didn’t plan to quit before the match, but I felt that it was exactly the right time. I didn’t quit in frustration right after the defeat, but it took two weeks to think about what I would do in the future.

My body was grateful for having more time to recover and I needed breaks to play on the highest possible level for THW. It was also the right time for young Swedish players to build a new team.

Eurohandball.com: There were rumours of a possible comeback in the national team. Was it really an issue?

Lövgren: I was asked by the coaches from time to time, but I turned them down. Before every EURO or World Championship it was on the agenda, but in my opinion it’s not good to return only to the major tournaments and not to play at all the matches.

Eurohandball.com: Back to Kiel: except for the Sparkassen-Arena, what do you like most in this city?

Lövgren: Everybody lives inside handball in Kiel, which is great. I like the sea; it’s the same as in Gothenburg. I like to be near the sea, which makes me feel like in Scandinavia.

Playing the last seasonEurohandball.com: A lot of Swedish players arrived in Kiel. What’s the special attraction of THW?

Lövgren: It’s the philosophy of the club to buy Swedish players. THW know that they don’t have problems with them and the players know how they are treated here. And the other advantage is that we are close to Scandinavia.

Eurohandball.com: On 30 June, your contract will expire in Kiel. Are you afraid of the last match in the shirt of your club?

Lövgren: No, not yet. But when I played the farewell match of former German international Markus Baur, it was clear to me that I would be the next to say goodbye. I don’t fear my last match as I had enough time to deal with this situation.

Eurohandball.com: What are your plans for the farewell match?

Lövgren: On 6 June we will have our last league match with THW and this is a good day to finish my career. This is a Swedish national holiday. There will be a kind of farewell match, but I don’t know exactly when this will take place and what will happen then.

Eurohandball.com: With how many titles of the current season would you like to say goodbye?

Lövgren: We still have a chance for three titles – in the league, the cup and the Champions League. Especially the Bundesliga is looking very good for us; in the other competitions we have our fate in our hands. The most important is that we win a title this season as I want to have a final celebration on the balcony of the Kiel City Hall. If we win two or three titles, it would be even better.

Lövgren will deal with kidsEurohandball.com: In 2007, when Kiel won the Champions League, you missed the finals due to an injury. In 2008, Kiel missed the CL title by losing against Ciudad Real. Will you get a third chance to win the “King’s Class”?

Lövgren: We have the chance to reach the final, for sure. But this will be decided not only on court. You need some luck at the draws; you need some luck with the key players who should not be injured in the decisive stage of the season. We have the potential to reach the final, but other factors are just as important.

Eurohandball.com: You will work in a school in Sweden and also as a kind of players’ manager. Don’t you want to follow your friend, Staffan Olsson, who is a coach?

Lövgren: At first I want to have certain distance from the daily business of professional handball. I don’t want to take part in training sessions every day and be on the road to matches. I have to see how everything works – and also if my wife won’t tell me that I’m too much at home. I will stay close to handball with my new jobs, but in another manner.

Eurohandball.com: You have a son and a daughter. Would you advise them to become professional handballers?

Lövgren: Sports is highly important for children, but if my children will become handball professionals or not, this will be their decision. No matter how they will decide, I will support them.

TEXT: Björn Pazen