A moment with … Diego SimonetArticle
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A MOMENT WITH: Argentina's only VELUX EHF Champions League representative speaks about his handball-crazy family, his career journey so far and future hopes for Montpellier and the Argentinian national team.

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A moment with … Diego Simonet

When I knew that I would be doing a game in Montpellier, there was one player I really wanted to interview. In terms of handball, he is an exotic; he comes from a non-traditional handball country and yet has reached the heights of VELUX EHF Champions League handball. As I spoke with him, I was amazed at the many parallels with Irish handball, the only difference being that they have gone on to achieve great things at international level.

“Handball people are crazy about handball in Argentina”

In a country dominated by football, handball comes down the list of very British sports. Rugby and field hockey are much more popular and the amateur sport of handball is a “pay to play” sport. Brought by the Germans to the country, his parents both played and so a family dynasty was born. His parents are still his greatest fans and they regularly travel to matches at club and country to support him.

“If I hadn’t played for the national team at junior level, I would never have made it”

Club handball in Argentina is a few trainings a week and matches on a Saturday. But when Diego was chosen for the junior national team at age 15, that all changed. National training became the focus of his week and his then coach, Gallardo, brought on a team of “wannabes” that has become the core of a golden generation. At 17 he went to Brazil, where the top five teams are professional, and although his first two months were a nightmare, when the call came to move to Spain, he didn’t want to leave.

“I was always following my brother”

There are three “Simonets” who play for the Argentinian national team. The eldest is Sebastian, and the younger Diego was always trying to emulate his older brother. A visit to his brother in Torrevieja, for a family holiday, led to him training with the first team. The coach kept an eye on his progress in Brazil and the following season he signed for the Spanish club. His brother and he then moved to Ivry until finally Diego moved to Montpellier. His younger brother, Pablo, now plays in Ivry also. You hear in his voice how proud he is of his family and how close they are. There is a sense of pride that they all play in the national team at the same time.

“You progress at every training”

Moving to Montpellier was a big step. A club with a tradition with big names means that he had to change his mentality. The coach wants him less as a soloist and more as a conductor of the orchestra. He admits he had to believe in himself more, to accept being part of a huge club. His coach, he says, is the best in France, with great tactical acumen.

“It was my dream as a child”

Argentina is on the up in handball. They made the front page of the national press with a victory over Brazil to clinch a place at the Olympic Games in London. It was a dream come true for the young Diego, to not only qualify, but to beat Brazil doing it. For a handball nation so long in the shadow of their more “professional” neighbours, it was a monumental moment. Playing with his brother, Sebastian, just made it extra special. His other brother Pablo, watched on with my parents Alicia and Luis.

He loves music, films and has started to paint, to disconnect from the pressures of handball, but deep down he is still the boy from Argentina who cares deeply about family and all that that entails. He is a man who appreciates all the sport has given him. You can feel it from what he says. To have achieved what he has coming from such a non-traditional background shows that anything is possible. As if I didn’t like him enough, he pays me a compliment at the end of the interview. It shows the measure of the man, who can go on to achieve great things in the sport.

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain / cor