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17.09.2013, 13:30
A golden boy's successful years
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FEATURE: 1998 became the year when Daniel Stephan's star began to rise. At the EHF EURO in Italy the same year he was named 'Most Valuable Player' and subsequently '1998 World Handball Player'. Part 3 of our 'Where are they now'-series looks back at Stephan's remarkable career and tells what he does in his 'post-handball' life
 

A golden boy's successful years

Only the biggest names in handball have been named ‘Most Valuable Player’ at a Men’s EHF European Championship. And after ten events have been played since 1994, there is only one German on that illustrious list to date: Daniel Stephan.

The 40-year-old playmaker was part of all German teams which made the podium at EHF EURO events: The winning team of 2004, the silver medallists of 2002 and the bronze medallists of 1998.

And it was in Italy in 1998 that Stephan was awarded the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The award subsequently paved the way to the biggest personal honour Stephan received as a handball player as he was also named 1998 World Handball Player of the Year by the International Handball Federation – the first German in the award’s history and the only player on this list, who never played a match at world championships.

Every time the final tournament was about to happen, Daniel Stephan either was already injured or got injured just shortly before the event threw off.

So his star rose at EHF EURO events and Olympic Games, at which he paved the way to the German silver medal at Athens 2004 by scoring with the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Spain in the Olympic quarter-final.

But let’s go back to the EHF EURO 1998 and the surprising successes of Daniel Stephan and German national team.

The year before Germany had missed the qualification for the world championship which was followed by a change on the coach’s bench: Heiner Brand took over.

“And Heiner trusted me from the very beginning and gave a lot of confidence and responsibility to me, even though I was a young player,” says Stephan, looking back: “And from that moment on the only way for me was upwards.”

And Stephan immediately started paying back. Germany improved over the course of the tournament, led by the inspiring ideas and goals of their young playmaker.

“I played a tournament that was close to perfection,” Stephan says.

He led the Germans to the semi-final, but there the ‘Spanish hurdle’, a team that featured Talant Dujshebaev, MVP at the 1996 EHF EURO, proved to be too high.

However, after a thrilling extra-time victory against Russia, Germany secured their first medal at an EHF EURO event.

But when his teammates started celebrating, Daniel Stephan had to wait and wait and wait - he had been picked for the doping control.

“As usual it took a really long time until I had given my sample. I remember when I was waiting and waiting in the Anti-Doping Room, my teammates jumped in and coloured my hair, like they had done with all other players before.”

When the medal ceremony had started, Stephan still had not fulfilled his duties.

“My teammates took me to the podium where we received the bronze medals. Afterwards I went straight back to the Anti-Doping room.

“And when I was done, my teammates again were chasing me to return to the court – as I was awarded Most Valuable Player,” Stephan still – 15 years later – smiles when he remembers the occasion.

“This was my first personal award, connected with the first medal al major events. So I was proud and also surprised.”

Four years later, Stephan won silver at the EHF EURO 2002 in Sweden after losing a thrilling final after extra-time against the hosts – and became again part of the All-Star Team, this time as the tournament’s best centre back.

But the icing on the cake was still to come: In 2003 – of course, right before the world championship – Stephan tore his Achilles tendon. Without him, the German team won silver at the tournament in Portugal.

Historic German handball moments

Months later he was in the process of recovering from the injury, when Germany started preparing for the 2004 EHF EURO in Slovenia.

“It was the worst preparation ever, including incredible defeats in test matches,” says Stephan. And nothing changed in Koper where Germany played their EHF EURO matches.

After a win against Poland, Germany lost to Serbia-Montenegro and tied with France. The chances to win a medal were close to zero, when they made it to the main round with only one point in their account.

“Another defeat and we could have booked the ticket for the return flight,” says Stephan.

But what followed were wins and Germany made it to the semi-final in which they faced Denmark – but without their top stars Markus Baur and Stefan Kretzschmar who missed the match because of injuries.

“As Markus Baur was out, all responsibilities were on my shoulders,” says Stephan. But in the semi-final it seemed as if he succumbed to the pressure as all his shots had missed the goal.

With 20 seconds left on the clock and the score at 21:20 for Germany, they took a timeout.

Daniel Stephan: “We had planned a certain tactical move for the final attack – but everything went wrong and we were close to passive play.

So when I got the ball, I simply shot – and hit the net for my one and only goal in this match to clinch our berth in the final.”

In the final the Slovenian hosts stood no chance and Germany celebrated their first victory at an EHF EURO event, aptly nicknaming the hosting city of the final, Ljubljana, to “Jubel-Jana” (‘Jubel’ being the German word for cheering).

And after the final ‘Jubel-Jana’ played witness to one of the most historic moments of German handball.

“Heiner Brand had betted before that we are allowed to shave his famous moustache, if we win the final. And it was a great joy and pleasure to do it right in the arena,” says Stephan.

“Heiner was looking really strange – and his wife later said that she will divorce, if he would do it again.”

Stephan remains close to handball

The gold medal game in Ljubljana was the last EHF EURO match for Daniel Stephan, who retired from international handball in 2005 after several severe injuries.

After 13 years as a player from German club TBV Lemgo, which included winning two German championships (1997 and 2003), the EHF Cup in 2006 and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996, Stephan finally put an end to his career in 2007.

He became TBV Lemgo’ sports director, but was dismissed after only two years together with coach Markus Baur, when their team missed the qualification for the EHF Champions League Group Phase.

Stephan eventually started working as sports director for the German club HSG Düsseldorf until 2011, finishing his A-coaching license in the meantime.

“I had some offers from Bundesliga clubs to become their coach, but I am waiting, as it is my dream to coach a team within the German Handball Federation.

Let’s see what the future will bring,” he says.

But Stephan remains very close to handball, as he is commentating the sport for German sports channel Sport1, together with his former national teammate Stefan Kretzschmar.

Stephan also has a charity job as an ambassador for the German Cancer Aid, charity partner of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

But four to five times per year he is still on the handball court – together with players who became EHF EURO champions 2004 or world champions in 2007.

“We have a lot of fun – and it is for a good cause, as all money is donated for charity activities.”


Where are they now - Part 1: Magnus Andersson, MVP at the EHF EURO 1994

Where are they now - Part 2: Talant Dujshebaev, MVP at the EHF EURO 1996


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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