A trophy as a birthday present? “Just wait!”
There are so many Champions League stories around Talant Dujshebaev – and he can make history again on his 51st birthday on 2 June, the last day of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. For the fifth time since 2010, 2011, 2012 (Ciudad Real/Atletico Madrid) and 2016 (PGE Vive Kielce) the two-time IHF World Handball Player of the Year will travel to Cologne as a coach. For the fifth time after 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2016, he can win the Champions League as a coach.
In addition, Dujshebaev is still the only handball player to win the Champions League as a player and coach, following his first triumph with Santander in 1994. Now, he could also become the first father to win the Champions League with his son (Alex).
Again, Dujshebaev reaches for the stars with Kielce, after the Polish side eliminated the big favourites Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals. In this interview, he talks about the current season, the opportunities to come and the dreams.
ehfCL.com: Was the week of the two quarter-finals against Paris the craziest of your coaching career?
Talant Dujshebaev: Those games were simply crazy, dramatic and incredible! No one would have thought that we would win against a team like Paris with players such as Karabatic, Hansen, Sagosen or Gensheimer with 10 goals difference after PSG had previously lost only one Champions League game, in Szeged by one goal. And suddenly in the second leg, they caught up goal by goal and were virtually in Cologne. We did not play well in Paris, but we fought. And that was incredible.
ehfCL.com: When did you realise that Kielce booked the ticket to Cologne?
Talant Dujshebaev: When [Uladzislau] Kulesh threw the 25th goal, we all knew it.
ehfCL.com: At the final whistle, all the tension fell away from you and the team. Have you cheered like this since the victory in the Champions League 2015/16 Final against Veszprém?
Talant Dujshebaev: We had such an incredibly difficult season, with so many injury problems. In no single game did I have all players on board. Then we lose four group matches with a one-goal difference. It was not our year somehow. And then you face a team like PSG and make it to Cologne, so you can cheer like that!
ehfCL.com: Was this final stage in Paris comparable to the 2016 finals when Kielce made up a nine-goal deficit and won in a penalty shoot-out against Veszprém?
Talant Dujshebaev: No, they were completely different situations. We had to clash with Paris for 120 minutes and only 80 against Veszprém. Those were both historic matches – and before the question comes: I still do not know what happened in Cologne in these last 13 minutes of the match when we were turning the final around.
ehfCL.com: Three years later, Kielce return to Cologne, and again Veszprém are the opponents. Is the situation similar or completely different?
Talant Dujshebaev: There have been many changes in both teams, so it’s different. We have played against Veszprém four times since the final. Once there was a draw and three times we lost. But that does not mean anything. It’s one single game in Cologne, and I think we’re on the right track. Veszprém have played a great season – both teams, just like Barcelona and Vardar – absolutely deserve to be back in Cologne. Incidentally, there has never been such a group like our group in Champions League history: all four EHF FINAL4 participants [from the same group] and the defending champions have not even reached the Last 16 because the group was so difficult.
ehfCL.com: And there is another premier: all four teams in Cologne are coached by Spaniards. Are you surprised by this development?
Talant Dujshebaev: That clearly speaks for the Spanish school. Six quarter-finalists have Spanish coaches, now all four semi-finalists. The interesting thing is only one comes from FC Barcelona – everyone else was in Ciudad Real, which is incredible for my former club. But in general, it is a ‘chapeau’ for Spanish handball!
ehfCL.com: Veszprém are coached by your former player David Davis. How do you rate his performance?
Talant Dujshebaev: First of all, it was a pity for a coach as big as Ljubomir Vranjes that it did not work. David Davis has changed some things; he has a different style of playing that the players have implemented quickly, and the team was much better. Respect!
ehfCL.com: Another renowned Spanish coach is Valero Rivera. He won the EHF Champions League five times with Barcelona. If you steer Kielce to the podium on your birthday on 2 June, you are on the same level as this legend...
Talant Dujshebaev: (laughs) What can I say? We have not even started our first match at Cologne, and I should already talk about a title? No way! Anyone who knows the tournament in Cologne knows what can happen. The way to the podium is still so long. First, we have to give 100 per cent against Veszprém, then we can talk about the Sunday game. And when that is over, we can talk again.
ehfCL.com: Many experts say the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is more open than ever this year. Do you have a similar view, or is there a favourite for you?
Talant Dujshebaev: I said before the season that there are two big favourites, Barcelona and Paris. We eliminated PSG, so Barcelona are now the big favorites. I stay with this opinion. They have an incredibly strong squad and play a great season.
ehfCL.com: So is the final Kielce vs Barça?
Talant Dujshebaev: I do not say anything at all, except wait!
ehfCL.com: Your youngest son Dani will miss the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne because of an injury, but his older brother Alex will be there. You once said that it would be your dream to be with Alex in Cologne. Now that will happen – and Alex can even become top scorer in the Champions League…
Talant Dujshebaev: This is certainly not his most important goal in Cologne, because he wants to win the Champions League! As a father, I am incredibly proud that we are both in Cologne and how Alex has developed. To train two sons in his team is outstanding for a father.