A moment with ... Nikola KarabaticArticle
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INTERVIEW: The French icon speaks about all important steps in his handball life which led him to three big European powerhouses - Kiel, Montpellier and Barcelona.

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

A moment with ... Nikola Karabatic

Where do I begin, to tell the story of one of the greatest handball players ever to grace a court? He is a behemoth of the game, a multiple champion across club and international. Erstwhile of Kiel, Montpellier and latterly of Aix, he now plies his trade with one of the great handball institutions of the world; FC Barcelona. Nikola Karabatic is just a legend and to sit with him and chat with him was an honour and a pleasure. He tells me to ask him anything. I did.

“Defeat was bitter”

As we sit in a crowded coffee room. I instantly hit him with a memory he would probably rather forget. It's the CL final defeat to Ciudad Real in 2009.

He admits it was criminal to lose the game. He has never watched it again, but he remembers so much about it; Rutenka playing on the line and a general sense that some players lost their nerve in the final 10 minutes. (He has a much more colourful way of explaining it). He's happier that Rutenka is now a teammate, a player he rates as one of the best offensively.

“Deliberate Choice”

He reveals why he moved on from Kiel. Although he knew that perhaps no more titles in Europe would come from the move, he explains that trust and honour are paramount for him. His move to Kiel was organised by his father, who had met Serdarusic.

The latter became a real father figure for him. The promise that Serdarusic would stay as coach was not fulfilled by THW Kiel and Karabatic felt the need to move on. He doesn't judge about who is wrong or right just that he is a man of his word and likes others to adhere likewise to promises. Kiel didn't, so he moved on.

You get the sense that honour and truth are rated very highly in his vocabulary. There is no doubt that he would have remained with the top club, winning lots of titles, but the chance to be playing with his brother at Montpellier and being closer to his family was more important to him. He states that he still wanted to win and thought he could fulfil that dream at the French club. It was a little sacrifice, but one he was only too willing to grasp.


A father figure is also very important to him. Throughout the interview he talks about loyalty from him to the team, from the club to him. There is no doubt he needs that kind of “family” feeling. His dad, he says, was a model, a coach and an inspiration.

He always gave great advice, including, realising that Serdarusic would be a great mentor. His brother also is a huge factor in his life. He is proud of the former tennis player, who returned to handball at 18.

He realises that there was probably some jealousy from certain quarters about his brother playing, knowing that the old refrain “He's only picked because of his big brother” was sung quite a lot. In a moment of great tenderness he admits that it's not easy to have a big brother like him and that Luka has shown great strength to overcome it.

“I was convinced we could reach the FINAL4”

He is quite hard on his former club and with good reason. Always a winner, he states bad management with player and their injuries for not reaching the FINAL4.

He doesn't use it as an excuse, but rather as a man who thinks deeply and analytically about things. He remembers medical advice that was not followed or friendly games that should not have been played. Whatever the reasons he had started to fall out of love with Montpellier and had spoken about wanting to leave.

“Betting scandal”

He speaks openly about what happened and his exoneration on Match-Fixing claims. He believes that the club didn't support either him or his brother when the chips fell. It deeply hurts him and he moved to Aix, where Noka was coaching.

When I asked him if it was a “fall from grace”, he lets me know in no uncertain terms, that it was one of the happiest times in his life. His brother was there, former coach, the club escaped relegation and he was voted “player of the year” in France. It was, he says, a new experience.

“Second Chance”

During all this time, Barcelona was always talking with him. This wasn't, as some might suggest a “We will rescue you” moment. They trusted him and spoke about everything and once again I'll say that trust is vital to him. He admits that this team, now, is a great team.

Full of winners and great players, they are hungry for success. He also says that the coach must take a lot of credit, because he looks at what the team needs. This is the difference between an average coach and a great coach.

We spoke about a lot more. The precision of positions in handball, the accessibility of players and winning against all the odds at the EURO. We spoke for 50 minutes. I apologised for keeping him so long. He said it was interesting. And it was. This was a man who wanted to explain things from his perspective. A team man, who admires the collective, but who also, has to be strong as an individual.

I liked him a lot. He is funny and even though he is relentlessly pursued by the media for interviews, he made me feel like I was the only guy to ever ask an interesting question. Not a bad skill to have.

When i left the interview, I met Victor Tomas, captain of FCB. He told me a little story. After the first training Nikola picked up the bag of dirty laundry. He was told that there was someone who would take care of it. He said: “I'm the new guy, I'll do it”. Class act!

Listen to the full interview between Tom and Nikola here.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator