INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: Swedish international Isabelle Gulldén celebrates her 27th birthday on Wednesday looking back on a great season – and she has every reason to believe the new one will be just as good
When Isabelle Gulldén turns 27 this Wednesday, she can celebrate by looking back on a season which saw her and her team, CSM Bucuresti, winning the Women's EHF Champions League.
The final, in which CSM defeated Györi Audi ETO KC 29:26 after penalties, was a huge personal success for the experienced Swedish playmaker. She scored no less than 15 goals and was awarded the top scorer award for 108 season goals.
Her summer holidays will arguably be a bit shorter his year though. At the beginning of August she will travel with the Swedish national team to Rio for the Olympic Games. Shortly afterwards the mission ‘title defence’ in the EHF Champions League starts, and then, in December, the year ends with the Women’s EHF EURO 2016 on home ground.
When you look back at the past season, what do you remember the most?
Isabelle Gulldén: For a long time, it was a bit up and down. It started with quite some turbulence at CSM, but it turned into a real adventure, ending with the Champions League win. Until we got that far, the successful Olympic qualifiers with Sweden helped me to keep up my spirit and my optimism, and as I said, the end of the season was just fantastic.
What were the main reasons why you were able to win the Women’s EHF Champions League?
Isabelle Gulldén: I think the main reason was that we simply focused on ourselves and on what we were capable of doing. We realised that we were underdogs, and I think that this gave us a rather relaxed approach to all of it. That is a big part of the reason, I think.
What do you remember from the final?
Isabelle Gulldén: To be honest, not much. It was only when I watched the match again on video that I thought: ‘Oh, did I really do this and this?’ That makes me proud, of course, but I must admit that I do not remember much of what I thought and felt during the match.
You scored with all eight penalties you took in the final. What is it with you and those penalties? Are you particularly cool or what is your secret?
Isabelle Gulldén: Part of the explanation, I think, is that I rarely get nervous. I’m rather good at keeping my nerves under control. Another factor is the fact that I have taken so many penalties by now. I have done it so often and have so much experience in shooting from that seven-metre line, and this combined with my lack of nervousness is probably the explanation why I rarely miss a penalty.
The next Women’s EHF Champions League starts in September. Can you win it again?
Isabelle Gulldén: I don’t see why we should not be able to go all the way again. We have the team who can solve the task, but so do several other teams, of course. It is very tight at the top in Europe these years, so there is no doubt that it will be close, but I definitely think we have the chance to repeat our triumph from the past season.
You will be defending the Champions League trophy with a new coach. Jakob Vestergaard will be the third Danish coach at the club's helm within a year. How do you feel about that?
Isabelle Gulldén: I’m sure it will be good. Jakob won the Champions League twice before, with Viborg in 2009 and 2010, so he knows what it’s all about. I have played for several years in Denmark, so I’m happy to have a Danish coach. I like the Danish coaches’ handball philosophy and their way of approaching their players.
The draw for the group matches is coming up this Friday. Do you have any specific wishes?
Isabelle Gulldén: Just not Rostov-Don again, please! That is a long trip, and I think we have had enough of them. However, it is so much nicer to get home from that long trip, of course!
In August you will be playing at the Olympic Games with Sweden. What are your expectations?
Isabelle Gulldén: Of course, it will be an awesome experience to play the Olympics, but it will also be a big challenge. With Hendrik Signell we have a new coach and we will have to adjust to only having 14 players in our squad. To all this, you can add the new rules, playing seven against six without a player with a bib and all that, so there are really some challenges connected with the Olympics, but I think our chances are just as good as the ones of many other teams.
After the Olympics, the EHF EURO 2016 on home ground awaits in December and you are an ambassador for the event. What does that mean to you?
Isabelle Gulldén: That is really cool and a big honour for me. It is an exciting job to sell handball to the Swedes. Of course, it would be easier if I was at home in Sweden all the time; it becomes a bit more difficult when I’m abroad so much of a time, but I still experience success, and I sense a huge interest in the even already.
How do think Sweden will perform at the EHF EURO?
Isabelle Gulldén: I think we have all chances to perform well and get far. By then, our new coach will have had more time to get into the job, and if the spectators support us, I think we can get really far. Furthermore, we can hope for some of the key players in some of the other teams to get pregnant after the Olympics! We have seen that before, and that would really boost our chances (laughs)!