The Kleins, a well-rehearsed handball family in NantesArticle
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FEATURE: Dominik and Isabell Klein are European high-flyers with their clubs – and have settled in France with little Colin.

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The Kleins, a well-rehearsed handball family in Nantes

The ‘handball family’ is often mentioned by players, coaches or officials. And it is true: Handball has even made some families – like in the case of Dominik (33 years old) and Isabell Klein (32).

The two Bavarians got to know each other through handball, they fell in love, they married, they gave birth to little Colin – and still the majority of their lives is handball.

Dominik ‘Mini’ Klein played for Wallau and Großwallstadt before joining THW Kiel in 2006. He had already been a couple with Isabell then.

Some years later, ‘Isi’ made it northwards in Germany, signed for Buxtehuder SV near Hamburg, where she became team captain and national team player. At that moment, her husband Dominik had already been world champion and EHF Champions League winner – both in 2007.

In 2014, both Isi and Mini were still in the national team when little Colin was born. Life changed completely, mainly for Isabell.

From the moment she re-started playing professional handball, the calendar was her best and most important friend and help.

“It is not easy to organise every single hour of a day. When is my training session, when is Dominik’s training? And taking in account that I had to travel two hours to and from Kiel, where we lived, to Buxtehude,” Isabell says.

But they managed it. One year ago, the little family took a decision that changed their life again. Dominik couldn’t agree with Kiel on a long-term contract at the club. And as they were both looking for a new handball challenge, they found it in Nantes.

Dominik signed with HBC Nantes, Isabell joined Loire Atlantique Nantes – both in the first leagues, both in European Cup competitions.

After Dominik played ten years with THW Kiel in the EHF Champions League, his new club was awarded a wild card to be part of Europe’s top club competition for the first time.

Isabell and her new team mates started in the newly merged EHF Cup. On Sunday they have the gate wide open for entering the group phase as they start the return game against Sercodak Dalfsen with a comfortable advantage after their 31:21 win from the first leg in the Netherlands.

HBC is even more successful, being the only unbeaten team among the 28 VELUX EHF Champions League participants. Dominik and his team can make a huge step towards the play-offs for the Last 16 when they face Zaporozhye on Saturday.

Usually, Nantes women’s and men’s teams use different venues but this time Atlantique Loire will play in the big Trocardiere Arena, the home of HBC.

“Funny enough, this will be only the second time I see a match of Isabell,” says Dominik.

“It is rather the case that we meet at Nantes Airport than I see her matches. But thanks to Air France, the small airport of Nantes is well connected to all major handball cities in France,” the three-time Champions League winner with Kiel says. “And even more often we stay in Paris after or before a league match when we play in the Champions League.”

Isabell calls it “something completely new to fly to away matches.”

“In Germany, we were used to have 800-kilometre-long bus trips, starting in the middle of the night on the respective match day. At Nantes, we even fly the day before our matches,” she says.

In contrast to her husband she learnt French at school extremely well.

“Of course I knew before that French people don’t like to speak other languages but I expected that most of them speak English – and I was wrong,” she says. “So I had to arrange everything in our first weeks. And still, if the plumber knocks at the door, I am the one to open it.”

But Dominik learns the new language quite quickly. Twice a week he works two hours with a personal language coach.

“Some days ago I had to talk at a sponsor event, and I was surprised how fluid it went”, the HBC left wing says.

The handball couple has settled really fast at their first clubs abroad.

“It makes things much easier when you do a transfer as a family,” Isabell says.

Little Colin is in the kindergarten. After some initial problems, the two-and-a-half-year-old boy found friends quickly, and he is already trying his personal style of the French language. “It is really funny when he speaks,” Isabell says.

In general, the team mates of both have already become friends with the Kleins.

“The biggest advantage for me is that I am not spending four hours a day on the motorway. From where we live I can even cycle to the training hall,” says Isabell, the only ‘mummy’ in her team.

Still, the family calendar is the most important tool – including two more columns than before: her nanny got one and already Colin has his appointments.

“Without our nanny, it would not be possible that we both play professional handball. Not only because of the away trips, but also because of the number of training sessions,” Dominik says.

From the end of November the schedule for the nanny will even be tougher as Isabell has been nominated for EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden, and the preparation camp start on 21 November.

“We have planned and organised everything. But it will be long absence from our new home,” the right back and right wing player of the German team says.

“But all of us – Dominik, the nanny and me – we are a well-rehearsed team. We have been training two years for it.”

And having success with both sides boosts the family.

“HBC play their first ever season in the Champions League, and we are still unbeaten,” Dominik says. “That’s impressive, even more as we had to cope with some injury problems of key players. But we have a strong and wide squad full of quality.”

Isi and Mini are not the only couple in professional handball as a Swede and a Dane even both play for Champions League clubs: Ulrika (Esbjerg) and Henrik Toft Hansen (Flensburg). Funny enough, Isabell was Ulrika’s team mate at Buxtehude and Dominik was team mate of Henrik’s brother Rene at Kiel.

So the handball stage seems to be set for little Colin.

“It is brilliant how he already catches a big handball,” says Dominik, whose genes seem to be dominant as Colin throws the ball with his right hand.

“We will not push him to any sport or hobby, that will be his own decision,” Isabell says. “But he spends so many hours in handball arenas with us that it would be strange if he would not try to play it.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew