Team Handball News contributor Altay Atli had the opportunity in Istanbul to meet with the coach and players of FC Barcelona before their Champions League game against Beşiktaş Mogaz.
FC Barcelona, or Barça as it is affectionately called by its fans, is all about grandeur. Founded in 1899, the Catalan club has won every trophy in every sports it competes, yet the idea of Barça goes far beyond results on the sports field. For millions of fans in Spain and around the world, Barça is a part of culture, a sense of identity and belonging, a life style, a pure yet very passionate form of love. As the Barça’s motto goes, “Més que un club”: it is more than a club…
These words are displayed in gigantic letters at the stands of Camp Nou, home of the soccer team of FC Barcelona. True, in a soccer-crazy country, this motto is often heard with reference to the soccer team which employs superstars like Lionel Messi and Neymar. However, in order to understand the true meaning behind “Més que un club”, one should leave the Camp Nou, forget about soccer for a while, and look at other branches. In this sense, Barcelona’s handball team, which has won the EHF Champions’ League eight times and the IHF Super Globe twice among several other trophies, offers a perfect illustration of what it takes to be more than a club.
When Barça visited Istanbul to face the Turkish champions Beşiktaş Mogaz, a group of Turkish handball writers had the opportunity to meet with the coach of the team, Xavi Pascual, and three star players, Danijel Šarić, Kiril Lazarov and Siarhei Rutenka. Together with yours truly; Fırat Beyde, editor of handball portal Hentbolhaber.net; and Zeynur Pehlivan, handball expert and former captain of Turkish women’s national team had a lively discussion with the Barceloníns, about many things, but most importantly about the idea of Barça.
Barcelona is home to the crème de la crème of world handball.But is having big names in the team enough for success? “Handball is a collective sports,” says Xavi Pascual, the head coach, “and there must be rules concurrent with this nature of the game. It is very difficult to bring together these star players; they are geniuses of handball. These are very special people. But the most important thing is that each of them has the desire to become a team. What we are doing is to provide them with the necessary environment for this.”
Kiril Lazarov, the Macedonian right-back, agrees with Pascual, and points out to the importance for young players to join a good club. It’s not only about having star players, but also about integrating them with talented youngsters, when it comes to forming a real team where experience combines with the energy of youth. “It is very important for a young player to be a part of a good club,” says Lazarov who had played hist first European cup game at the age of 17, “in such clubs yo can learn much more. Your friends are good handballers. You get something from them and your careers rise together.”
Stars, geniuses, as well as talented youngsters… Xavi Pascual has them all in his team. But there is one more key ingredient for success: humility. “Yes, we are a good team. But we also know that there are many more good teams in Europe. It is wonderful that people are talking about us, talking about Barça. But if you watch the games in European competitions, you can see that there are teams that can play even better than us. It is not possible to win every match. No matter how great you are, you should always keep in mind that you can lose the match.” Goalkeeper Danijel Šarić agrees: “Especially in the Champions’ League, there are no favourites, there can be no favourites. Anything can happen.” Left-back Siarhei Rutenka reminds us of the last season when Barça lost against SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the semi final of the Champions’ League: “It’s often a single match that determines your fate. You have to perform your best. Last year Flensburg was excellent. Their strategy and tactics were superior and they have beaten us. This year we hope to do better.”
FC Barcelona is a sports club, which is active in several branches. This is a rarity in European handball scene, as the majority of the clubs competing at the highest level are handball-only clubs. In this sense, FC Barcelona, together with clubs like PSG, HSV Hamburg, FC Porto and Beşiktaş face the organisational and financial challenge of integrating handball within a wider range of branches and making sure that handball dis not overshadowed by soccer. However, this is an investment that pays well. In the case of FC Barcelona, the soccer department is actually one of the main providers of funding of the handball team. In other words, the more successful Messi & Co. are and the more revenues the soccer team generates, the better are the conditions provided for the handball team. However, for Barcelona’s handballers, benefits of being part of a multi-branch club go beyond the financial aspect. “Barça can become champions in every sports it takes part,” says Xavi Pascual, “For our fans, it is a source of pride to know that they are part of a club that competes at the highest possible level in every sports. Barcelona is and has always been more than a club. This is what matters for those who love us.”
Barcelona has nothing missing in its handball trophy cabinet. They have a team followed by thousands in Palau Blaugrana, and millions world-wide through television and internet. So, what is the next step for such a team, which has won everything that is out there? Xavi Pascual declares Barça’s ultimate goal: winning the next game! “I believe in the importance of gradual progress. What matters for is us reaching that end point, step by step. For us the final game is always the next game ahead.This is how we and our club see it.”
Més que un club… After thanking Pascual and his players for their time, and bidding farewell as they left the hotel for Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dome, we took the time to reflect on this motto and what we have learned in our discussion. One question directly popped up: Could FC Barcelona Handbol have been this successful and this popular if the club did not have a soccer team? Who knows, perhaps… But the important thing is—and here we are talking from a European perspective where soccer is the game—if a soccer team contributes to the handball branch of the same club, not only by providing finances, but also by recruiting fans, and offering an established institutional structure, this should be welcomed.