Simonet: Montpellier looking to new season humble and motivated
Last season could hardly have been more perfect for Diego Simonet. The Argentinian handball hero became the first from his nation to win the VELUX EHF Champions League when Montpellier HB raised the trophy in Cologne in May, and Simonet was named as MVP of the FINAL4 – making him the first ever non-European to receive the award.
The Champions League title meant Montpellier moved from Groups C/D to tough Group A for the 2018/19 season, where they will face new challenges as the team to beat. ehfcl.com caught up with Simonet to reflect on last season’s triumphs, find out how Montpellier have progressed since and discuss how he personally has developed after his individual achievement.
ehfcl.com: What does winning the Champions League mean for a player?
Diego Simonet: I’m going to sound obvious, but it’s a dream come true. It’s the kind of goal you set to yourself when you’re young, like playing the Olympics or playing with a big powerhouse in Europe, without actually knowing if it’s going to happen or not. But when you do it, it’s hard to describe. All these years working and sometimes going through hard times – suddenly, they’re worth it.
ehfcl.com: How much of a different player are you after being selected as MVP of the last FINAL4?
Diego Simonet: Not much. Maybe I trust myself a little bit more on the court. I was always worried if I was doing things right or if I could improve myself. I know I’ve stepped up now, I don’t ask myself so many questions anymore. But you have to deliver too. I must fulfil my responsibilities and be good every game, not just in the important ones.
ehfcl.com: It also looks like Patrice Canayer, your coach, trusts you even more now.
Diego Simonet: I guess he’s seen he can trust me now. I kind of matured over the years. I’m not as crazy as I used to be. Patrice gives me a lot more freedom regarding tactical decisions, we talk a lot and we always try to improve the team.
ehfcl.com: The last season was an historic one. Was it hard to return to the preparation routine after that?
Diego Simonet: Honestly, I’m surprised. I thought that maybe we would have become a little bit pretentious, but nobody’s been this way. The guys in the squad have been very humble. We’ve been very serious during all the games we’ve played this summer. I’m very happy about our collective attitude and I really hope this will carry on.
ehfcl.com: Is your consistent strength the hardest thing to confirm now?
Diego Simonet: Of course it is. Winning the Champions League is not enough. Now we have to show we were not just lucky but that we deserved it. Of course, we know it was not just fate. We won against the best sides in Europe, and Barcelona and Flensburg. But maybe to the outsiders, some of them didn’t expect us to climb this high, so we have to show them we really did deserve it.
ehfcl.com: Do you think that the other clubs will now look at you differently?
Diego Simonet: We have a very good team in which all the players understand each other very well. And it’s been like that for years now. What will change is that now, everybody will have to beat the Champions League winners. They looked at us seriously before, but now, we’ll be the team to beat. We have to learn how to behave in this position.
ehfcl.com: What kind of difference does it make to play in the top groups of the Champions League?
Diego Simonet: It’s exciting to know we’re going to play all these big clubs: Veszprém, Barcelona, Vardar. But we also know that the rhythm will be different, with two tough games every week. No disrespect, but maybe we could lift the foot off the pedal a little sometimes in the Champions League last season – it’s not going to be like that this season.
ehfcl.com: Do you expect a tougher season than the last one?
Diego Simonet: It’s going to be a test for us. Can we take the pressure of being the reigning champions? Of playing two tough games every week? Mentally, it can be draining, but if we manage, we won’t be far from a title again. It has the potential to be tough, of course, but I trust my team a lot to cope with everything that comes our way. Over the years, we’ve proven our ability to stay true to ourselves, even in the hardest conditions.