At 37, the three-time Olympic champion, who is about to compete for a new Euro (January 13 to 30), admits no longer approaching major competitions in the same way as before, pleasure taking precedence over pressure.
Nikola, how did you feel wearing the armband against Germany last Sunday, for the first time after 325 caps?
Nikola Karabatic : I am very happy with this premiere. It’s fun to experience this after almost 20 years in the France team. I am proud to have been able to have this responsibility of wearing the armband. And even if it’s only for once, I keep the honor of having been one of the captains of this France team. I am happy to have been able to relay Valentin (Porte) and I am also happy to see that he is coming back among us. The only disappointment in the end is to have lost for this first.
Physically, how do you feel after having the Covid during the Christmas holidays?
Yes, I caught it after the League Cup Final Four. It was triggered on the evening of December 20 and behind it, I had three or four rather difficult days. I did not have an asymptomatic form and I was very tired for a week. But as soon as my test was negative, I was able to resume training and today I feel good. I was able to catch up with my little delay linked to my isolation for a few days.
What goal do you have on this Euro, six months after the Olympic title won in Tokyo?
It will be a particular Euro due to the context. Ideally, we would have liked to continue the momentum of the Games with a team that is now firmly in place, just to continue on the same dynamic as we have sometimes been able to do in the past. Unfortunately, we have a lot of absentees due to injuries for some. So we come to this competition with a lot of training. I think that with this team, we can claim a very good result, but it is sure that the situation has changed a bit. We are less favored than we could have been if we had fielded the same team as in Tokyo.
Among those absent is the name of your brother Luka. How to replace it? And personally, does his absence leave you facing a great void?
Yes, it’s clear that it’s going to make me weird not to play with Luka. I’m sad about that because it’s a real chance that we can win titles together in the national jersey. For us, this is what is most beautiful and it is a little additional motivation to live it with him. But that’s how it is, it’s sport, it has happened to us in the past. Then, how to replace him, it’s a good question to ask the coach (smile). We have Karl (Konan) who will have more responsibilities. He will not be able to replace Luka post for post because he is one of the best pivots and defenders in the world, but we are counting a lot on Karl to help us, to bring us all his dynamism and all his desire in order to continue on this specificity of the team. of France which is to have won so many titles thanks to the quality of its defense.
It is certain that I am not at all the same player as when I lived my first Euro.
After the Tokyo Games, Michaël Guigou and Luc Abalo decided to stop their international careers. What prompted you to pursue her?
The pleasure of evolving in the French team, already. The feeling also that my story with her is not over yet. Everyone has their own and each player feels when it is time to quit or not. It was not my case. In Tokyo, in addition, I achieved a big goal which was to win this Olympic title with my brother and I wanted to prolong this pleasure on this European Championship. Especially since physically, I feel good. So I saw no reason to stop.
Do you arrive on this Euro with the same motivation as if it were your first? Do you approach it differently, with greater maturity and therefore a certain detachment?
It is certain that I am not at all the same player as when I lived my first Euro. So much has changed in my handball life, but also in my family. So it’s obvious that I approach it differently. Today I tend to see each new competition as a wonderful bonus. I focus more on the pleasure I take in evolving with my teammates, in passing on to young people. It is really this notion of pleasure which is important because on my first Euro, I had a much stronger pressure. I had to prove that I had my place, that I deserved to be there, and I wanted to win my first title in the selection. It is obvious that the sources of my motivation are different at 37 from those I was at 20.
On a daily basis, how do your role as an elder within the group and this transmission that you mention materialize?
This duty of transmission, I feel it and I have done it almost since I was 24 years old. Now, for sure, here I am the one with the most selections and the oldest, so I have a different role. My partners are now much younger than me, so I find myself more in a role of a big brother, and not just a leader in the field. Sometimes I abuse it a little by titillating them and I know that they are not going to say anything because they have this respect vis-à-vis my career (smile). I try to do it with benevolence, and I also make sure that the values of this France team endure, that they are well respected and integrated by everyone. When you wear this jersey, it’s to win titles and there is a real demand.
You could join, on the occasion of this Euro, in the very closed club of players who have won the competition four times …
I don’t think about that at all. The end of the competition is still very far away and I prefer to concentrate on the beginning (smile). Especially on a Euro where the road is always very difficult and very long to reach the end. Now I already have some records and I’m not going to lie to you, if I can get some more that would be great. Now, more than looking for records, what motivates me is above all to win with this team and to have fun there.