Klein hopes for farewell tour to end in a city on the river RhineArticle
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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: Nantes left wing Dominik Klein dreams of booking his seventh ticket for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, but is aware of the Danish hurdle, Skjern
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Klein hopes for farewell tour to end in a city on the river Rhine

After this season, Dominik Klein will say farewell to handball. The 34-year-old German left wing, playing for HBC Nantes, will end his career after 15 years as a professional. Following 10 years at THW Kiel – which included three Champions League trophies, two Champions League Finals that ended in disappointment, eight German league titles and six cup trophies – the 2007 world champion moved to France in 2016.  

Over the two upcoming weekends, Klein has the chance to book his seventh individual ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne – the first wearing Nantes’ jersey – in the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals against Danish surprise package Skjern Handbold. In this ehfcl.com Interview of the Week, Klein talks about the past, present and future – and, surprisingly, does not mention the word ‘Cologne’ once.

ehfCL.com: If someone told you before the season that HBC Nantes would face Skjern in the Champions League quarter-final, what would you have told them?

Dominik Klein: Must be crazy! Definitely this would have been a perfect odd, if you would have bet on it. If you would have put only one Euro on this situation, you definitely would have the money to buy a ticket for the FINAL4 now.

ehfCL.com: So, you are already dreaming of Cologne?

Dominik Klein: I will not utter the name of this city at the river Rhine until we are there, not even in this interview! Otherwise, it could be a bad omen.

ehfCL.com: But considering the course of the season, were Nantes always a candidate for the quarter-finals?

Dominik Klein: Last year, we played our first Champions League season and made it to the Last 16, which was a great success for us. Before the start of this season, we agreed on ‘getting one step ahead in the Champions League’ as one goal. This is what we achieved – and to be honest: Making it among the best eight best teams in the world with Nantes is already a dream coming true.

ehfCL.com: How do you rate the chances of clinching the VELUX EHF FINAL4 berth?

Dominik Klein: It is, as usual, 50:50. Though we mainly look at ourselves, we are aware of what Skjern are capable. When we returned from our victorious first leg of the Last 16 in Brest, we watched Skjern’s impressive home win against Veszprém during our stopover at Paris airport. We saw that they could have won even clearer, so definitely our respect for them rose; also, as Skjern are currently the dominant team in the Danish league. We really need two strong and focused matches against them.

ehfCL.com: Nantes were one of the surprise teams in the group phase. Two rounds prior to the end, you were still fighting for the top position. Did you expect to be on par with teams such as Barcelona, Rhein-Neckar Löwen or defending champions Vardar?

Dominik Klein: It was unbelievable that we were so strong. Before the season, I would have had agreed on a sentence like: ‘before their last group match at Löwen, Nantes still have the chance to make it to the Last 16’. You always have to consider that this is the second ever Champions League season for us; the first one in the top Groups A and B after we started in Groups C/D in 2016. Funnily enough, we compensated some shaky performances in the French league with great results in the Champions League.

ehfCL.com: Le français est parlé à Cologne? Will French be the main language in Cologne this year, as three French teams could make it there?

Dominik Klein: This a great story for the French league, of course. But I had also hoped for three German teams in the quarter-finals, which unfortunately did not work. The composition of the quarter-finals clearly proves that the French and German leagues are the strongest in Europe. I only speak for Nantes and me: To be in this city at the river Rhine on May 26/27 would be a hammer, the biggest I could ever imagine. We will give all we can, as we know that we need two extraordinary performances against Skjern.

ehfCL.com: Your former club THW Kiel is among the top eight teams too. Do you still cross your fingers for the Zebras?

Dominik Klein: Of course, I still cross my fingers for Kiel. They got better and better this season and I am sure that they have a chance to beat Vardar on aggregate and make it to Co…oops, I mean, the city at the river Rhine! And the THW fans still have me in their hearts: On the day Kiel play their second leg in Skopje, we have our rematch in Skjern – and a bus full of THW fans will come to Denmark to support me and Nantes. This really sends shivers down my spine; this is what I call the THW family. And if we make it, I, of course, will donate some beer for their trip back home.

ehfCL.com: What are your predictions for the remaining two quarter-finals?

Dominik Klein: Kielce against PSG is another hammer encounter between two incredibly strong teams and, for Flensburg against Montpellier, I expect a 50:50 chance. So, it was definitely hard for the EHF to select the Match of the Week, because all quarter-finals are worth Matches of the Week. By the way, I would love to play another match covered by ehfTV commentator Tom O’Brannagain.

ehfCL.com: Would a Champions League Final between Nantes and Kiel in LANXESS arena be the perfect end to your international career?

Dominik Klein: Stop, stop, stop. This is absolute nonsense to talk about this situation now!

ehfCL.com: When did you and your wife Isabell decide that you would finish your careers after this season?

Dominik Klein: I cannot mention one certain day or one week, it was a process. As we are both professional handball players, the time together got less and less. So, somehow, we found the moment to say: Ok, that’s all.

ehfCL.com: Have you already planned your future?

Dominik Klein: First, we have to finish our seasons. Then we both want to take the time to recall the past, and to have more time for us and our son.

ehfCL.com: But you will be connected to handball in any case?

Dominik Klein: Indeed. Being a handball professional for me was a 15-year long apprenticeship for life. Now I want to pay back to this sport, which gave me so much. I do not know at the moment, if I rather want to become a coach or a manager – maybe I will check different positions. But definitely, I want to contribute my knowledge and experience.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg