Schmid: Sometimes it is my job to make the difference
Swiss player of the year several times, four straight seasons as the Bundesliga’s best player and in awarded EHF Player of the November in 2016 makes it safe to mention Andy Schmid's name among the very best handball players in the world.
He is the mastermind at the centre of Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s success over the past few years, becoming German champions twice and EHF Cup winners in 2013. However, success in the VELUX EHF Champions League has eluded Löwen recently, stumbling three consecutive times in the Last 16.
Ahead of the ehfTV.com Match of the Week at defending champions HC Vardar, Schmid explains why the unbeaten Löwen failed to reach Cologne in recent years, how they managed to cope with the loss of several stars and what they expect in the Jane Sandanski Arena on Saturday in their eighth of nine straight away matches in all competitions.
ehfCL.com: With trips to Szeged, Barcelona and now Skopje, Rhein-Neckar Löwen are in the middle of an extended run of away matches in Europe and the German Bundesliga. Is it possible for you to relax and recover during travelling?
Andy Schmid: It is hard for me to sleep in planes or buses, but you have to sleep a lot to recover, so you have to recharge your batteries in the hotels.
ehfCL.com: Last Sunday, Löwen drew 26:26 at Barcelona. Was it a point won or lost in your opinion?
Andy Schmid: From the perspective that we played only 24 hours after our Bundesliga match at Leipzig, we won a point, which not many people had expected. But in the end, I am torn between both answers, as we were ahead by four goals in the second half.
To take this point at Barcelona could be crucial for the final ranking and the match was a step forward for the team. Considering how we coped with the circumstances, I will say that we won a point.
ehfCL.com: After seven matches, including two draws against Barcelona, Löwen are still unbeaten in this VELUX EHF Champions League season. Did you expect a run like this?
Andy Schmid: No. We started well, we already handled some tough away matches well and we are happy to have real home matches as it was different to playing in Frankfurt last season. We take the competition seriously, but honestly we did not expect a start like this.
ehfCL.com: In the previous years, the focus of your club had been more on Bundesliga than on Champions League. Did things change?
Andy Schmid: On the international stage, we always want to go as far as possible. We give all we can, as everybody can see in our recent matches. However, during the group phase, a defeat cannot break your neck.
This is the difference compared with Bundesliga, where you have to win every match to be on top in the end. In the Champions League, the truth comes out in March/April, when the knockout stage starts, then you have to be ready.
ehfCL.com: Your lions will head into the lion’s den of the defending champions in Skopje on Saturday. How big is your respect for the atmosphere and for Vardar's team?
Andy Schmid: We have experienced this atmosphere several times and we know to expect is one of the most intense atmospheres in Europe. Vardar’s squad is simply world class; they are the defending champions of Europe, what more can you say about their quality? We are facing one of the toughest away matches in the competition.
ehfCL.com: Are you and your teammates even more motivated as you will duel with the current Champions League winners?
Andy Schmid: No, we always have the same level of motivation. We always want to win and we hope to give ourselves a chance of grabbing a point or two in Skopje.
ehfCL.com: Right at the end of your first season at Löwen, you managed to proceed to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. What was missing to make it again there?
Andy Schmid: In 2011, it were four or five clubs, which had a chance to go all the way. Now, the number has increased to at least eight or nine clubs with the financial power and ability to qualify for Cologne and win the trophy.
In the knock-out stages prior to the final event, one, two goals decided it all. Like for us, when we beat Barcelona in the quarter-finals by seven goals on home court and then were eliminated on the away goals rule. Or last season, when we lost by a single goal in the Last 16 against Kiel. When those eight, nine top teams lock horns, all matches are close and any team can miss out on a ticket to Cologne.
ehfCL.com: But still Cologne is one of Löwen objectives for the current season?
Andy Schmid: We have it in the back of our heads at the moment, it will be the focus when the knockout stage begins. As I mentioned, we belong to those eight, nine clubs, which can make it to Cologne.
ehfCL.com: A genuinely top class player has left Löwen in each of the past three years: Landin, Gensheimer and Ekdahl du Rietz. How did your team manage to compensate for these losses?
Andy Schmid: We have a good tactical concept, a well-rehearsed team, we found good replacements and we have a coach who managed to put together all the new and old pieces of the puzzle. The whole club moves together in the right direction and all the players are settled, this is what counts.
ehfCL.com: Or does Andy Schmid make the difference?
Andy Schmid: Sometimes it is my job to make the difference, but this is normal when you are the playmaker of a team. We have five, six, seven, eight players, who can make the difference, so I do not overestimate my role.
ehfCL.com: You have received a number of personal awards such as the Bundesliga’s player of the season and Swiss player of the year; how important are they for you?
Andy Schmid: They are nice to have, but in the end, handball is a team sport. None of these awards compare to trophies I have won with Löwen. In the end, these awards are icing on the cake, which prove you contributed your skills to a successful team over a long period.
ehfCL.com: While most of your club teammates will be part of the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia, you and Switzerland are part of the first qualification round for the 2019 World Championship. Does it hurt you not to play major tournaments?
Andy Schmid: I think this is the most common question I get asked by journalists. Sometimes it hurts to merely watch a EURO or a World Championship on TV, but it was my decision to keep my Swiss passport and continue representing my country, so I deal with it.Author: Björn Pazen / cor