Nicolas: "I remember everything"Article
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FEATURE: Undisputedly the best female goalkeeper France has produced looks back on her crowning glory - winning the 2005/06 EHF Champions League with Viborg

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Nicolas: "I remember everything"

Valérie Nicolas is a legend in French handball history. Elected the best goalkeeper at the 2003 and 2007 World Championship, today she is a role-model for the young hopes playing in this position. In 2006, she won the first EHF Champions League crown of her career with Viborg.

After signing her first professional contract with Gagny in 1995, she then went to Besançon, the best team of the French league. There, she won a historical quadruple in 2003: Cup Winners' Cup, French League, French League Cup league and French Cup.

At 28, she took a huge leap and signed with Viborg, the uncontested leading club in Denmark.

“When the Danish bosses contacted me, I felt proud and honoured that such a team could have any interest in me. Playing there was a new challenge for me, a test to see the best club in the handball world, in a 100% professional setting.

“When I began with Viborg, winning the Champions League was my main goal,” she explains. 

Valérie's first season was a success, with three titles, including the EHF Cup, but the French goalkeeper suffered a knee injury during the summer of 2004, forcing her to miss the entire 2004/05 season. "I went back to training when the team was preparing for the next season in the summer 2005. Until January, I couldn't get back to my previous level and I was disappointed with my performances. But in the second half of the season, I got my initial level back."

Involved in the competition as early as the second qualification round, the Danes gradually improved with every match and finished second in their group behind Krim Ljubljana.

"I think the turning point was during the quarter-finals. We lost the first leg at home, against Slagelse (26:28) and we went to win the return game away by six goals. I remember everything: our extreme focus before the game, coming back home to Viborg and the party in the bus. After winning this one, we had no choice, we had to win this Champions League,” says Nicolas.

Against Krim Ljubljana in the final, another away win set Viborg up for their first title in Europe’s elite competition. In the same season, Valérie Nicolas won the Danish league, the national cup and a bronze medal with France at the Women’s EHF EURO in Sweden.

Life after Denmark

A 33, Valérie Nicolas decided to return home from Denmark and signed with ASPTT Nice, a club playing in National 2, the equivalent of the French fourth division. “The club and this town offered me two projects at the same time: to help the team get higher in the handball hierarchy and also to give me an opportunity to work in the city council, so I had to think about it.”

In four seasons, the club climbed four divisions and reached the first league. Captain Valérie Nicolas, had a key role in the dramatic rise through the leagues.

"I then decided to end my career in June 2012 and right now I don't miss the handball court,” she says, smiling.

“Since September 2008, I work at the sports department for Nice's city council, in the sports events area. I also commentate on handball games for TV, mainly games of the national team. At first, this work wasn't easy, but now I really appreciate this experience. I try to bring my experience and my knowledge. I know a lot of the girls and a lot of the things that go on behind the scenes, so it can help understand what's going on in a team's life."

In May, she will be watching the MVM EHF FINAL4 closely and has a particular interest in the sides with a French connection.

"Playing at home, Györ is an obvious favourite, even more so that they're a superb team, but I'm really looking forward to see what Vardar will be able to do.

“This team has only been together for one season. How will they react to taking part in such an event? Furthermore, there are French girls at these two clubs, so I'll be even more interested in them,” admits the 39-year-old.

Today, Valérie Nicolas is totally satisfied with her new life and for her handball is not as big a part of it anymore. "I don't have the time to watch many games. Of course I like handball as much as I used to, but I us my free time to go skiing in the winter or to play tennis or squash. I also enjoy going away for the weekends with my boyfriend, just to discover new places. Things I didn't have the time to do during my career.

“That's why I have no desire to start something like a coaching career for now. Crossing France and Europe is fun, but only if you take the time to enjoy it," she concludes with a smile.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor