The quiet oneArticle
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FEATURE: While Paris Saint-Germain Handball are newcomers, right wing Luc Abalo returns for the fourth time – but he is yet to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Men's News

The quiet one

There are many kinds of heroes, especially when it comes to sport. You have the handsome one, just because he is, well, good-looking. You have the efficient one, that one player that scores from everything and everywhere. You have the saviour, that one person that always excels when it is most needed.

This list could go on forever, and a closer look at Paris Saint-Germain Handball reveals that they have players of all kinds in their ranks, but they also have one of the most precious and rarest kind. Let us call him ‘the quiet one’.

And while Nikola Karabatic, Mikkel Hansen and Thierry Omeyer receive most of the attention, Luc Abalo certainly is the ‘quiet one’. Hidden in the shadow of this star-studded team, his appearance can be compared to the snake that snatches out to bite, only to get back into the shade as quickly as possible.

Returning home to Paris

The 31-year-old right wing has everything to make him feel at home since he joined in 2012. Born in the town of Ivry sur Seine, he grew up on the borders of Paris, before he joined Ciudad Real in 2008. Attracted by Paris‘ project, he moved back to his native country and this season helped PSG to qualify for their first VELUX EHF FINAL4. Once more he was not really in the spotlight, he was just his usual self.

"Luc is a very good player. One you know you can rely on in good and bad times," says Abalo‘s teammate Nikola Karabatic. And on the wings, where the number of times you have the ball within a game might be limited, you would better be someone your teammates can rely on. And if they can count on Abalo to score, he himself can count on his physical abilities to do so.

His arm is as flexible as a rubberband and when he jumps he seems to remain in the air for an eternity, enabling him to create shots no one has even thought of. For Abalo, who has been interested in painting, music and creating in general for years, this does not come as a huge surprise at all, but
all of this has created a player who has been the fan favourite ever since his return to Paris.

And this year he is back to the VELUX EHF FINAL4, an event he is no stranger to, but that has not left him with happy memories to date. In 2010, 2011 and in 2012 he reached the final weekend with Ciudad Real and Atletico Madrid but did not win. In 2009 he won the EHF Champions League, but that was when still home and away matches decided the final.

Abalo jokes about this: "I‘ve been here three times and lost as many times, so I might not be the one to tell you what is needed to win," he says with a smile but then turns serious. "The most important thing is to remain physically fresh. You release so much energy on the semi-final day that you can end up drained for the final. You need to be fit and you need calmness as well. The calmer you are, the less energy you‘ll use."

"We still haven't achieved anything"

Abalo seemed quite pressure-proof this season. His 52 goals are not even half of what teammate Mikkel Hansen scored, but Abalo‘s efficiency is one of the best.

"He certainly learned over the years that it is sometimes more efficient to remain simple than to be complicated just for the sake of it," says France head coach Claude Onesta. "This is what usually happens with players with so many abilities. Things might seem a little bit too easy for them, and they might feel forced to make it hard."

The wisdom he amassed about his play also shows when he talks about his PSG at the VELUX EHF FINAL4. "We are a new team compared to Kielce, Kiel and Veszprém. All of them have been to the FINAL4 before while we haven‘t. No matter how many good players we have, we still haven‘t achieved anything."

Some might think that with Nikola Karabatic, Daniel Narcisse, Thierry Omery and Igor Vori, all former winners of the VELUX EHF Champions League, Paris deserves something more than just an outsiders‘ role, but Luc Abalo does not agree.

"We have to be ready to fight. We have to enter the court thinking that the opposing team is better than us. To me, to us, we are not favourites at all because collectively, we haven‘t achieved much yet. But it doesn‘t mean that we don‘t go to Cologne with the highest expectations."

In its first appearance in Cologne it cannot be the club‘s goal at all to just enjoy the experience. The players who have already won the EHF Champions League will not waste the opportunity to win it once again, while everyone else will give 100 per cent to win it for the first time.

"We, as players, want to win the Champions League, even if the club just wanted to go to the FINAL4," confirms Abalo. "But with four top clubs, and so many top players with the same goal, we can‘t afford any weakness. Tactic wise, handball wise, there won‘t be much of a difference between Kielce, Kiel, Veszprém and us. The ones who have been to Cologne already know how hard it is, and we‘ll need every single one of us to be at our top level."

To say it in different words. If they want to succeed at the VELUX EHF FINAL, PSG must have every person on board: the handsome hero, the
efficient one, the saviour, and, of course, Luc Abalo, the quiet hero.

TEXT: EHF / es