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06.11.2013, 10:48
Ivano Balic, the MVP of all MVPs
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INTERVIEW: For Part 9 of our 'Where are they now?-series with the stars from previous EHF EURO events, we talked to the Croatian playmaker whose star rose at the EHF EURO 2004 in Slovenia
 

Ivano Balic, the MVP of all MVPs

The countdown clock to the 2014 EHF European Championship in Denmark continues to tick down.

While the participating teams and its star players start getting in shape for the final tournament, we use the opportunity to look back at the stars from yesterday. The players that stood and occasionally still stand for success at the previous EHF EURO events.

Part 9 of our 'Where are they now?'-series is Croatian centre back Ivano Balic who was voted Most Valuable Player at the EHF EURO 2004 in Slovenia.

No other handball player to date has been awarded 'Most Valuable Player' more often than Ivano Balic, making him - figuratively speaking - the MVP of all MVPs.

The 34-year-old playmaker received the honour at five consecutive major events, first at the EHF EURO 2004 in Slovenia followed by the 2004 Olympic Games, the World Championship 2005, the EHF EURO 2006 and the World Championship 2007.

Balic, who is one of only two handball players who received the World Handball Player of the Year award on two occasions (2003, 2006), has enjoyed an illustrious career that included 2004 Olympic gold and a first place at the World Championship 2003.

However, EHF EURO gold eluded him despite reaching the final with Croatia in 2008 and 2010.

On club level Balic started at RK Split and then transferred to RK Metkovic, before leaving from Croatia to Spain for the first time in 2004, joining Portland San Antonio for four years.

In 2008 he returned home to RK Zagreb, before he went to Spain again in 2012, wearing the jersey of Atletico Madrid until this summer. To the surprise of many, he then joined German side HSG Wetzlar at the start of the 2013/14 season.

In this exclusive interview with ehf-euro.com for the 'Where are they now?'-series, Ivano Balic talks about his career, his awards, his incomplete EHF EURO history, the present and the future.

ehf-euro.com: Back in 2004 you were awarded Most Valuable Player of the EHF EURO for the first time. What are your memories on this tournament in Slovenia?
Ivano Balic: We had played an extremely good tournament and were in the semi-final against Slovenia. After only ten minutes Petar Metlicic was out with a severe knee injury – a real shock for all of us.

In my opinion this injury was the reason why we lost the match and missed the final. At the end I was awarded MVP of the EHF EURO. It was a very special feeling as it was the first award like this for me, so it was the prettiest one.

Every player dreams of getting such a brilliant award when he starts playing.

ehf-euro.com:  Was it something like a consolation for you to get this award?
Ivano Balic: It was a small personal satisfaction, but for me always the success of a team stood and stands at the forefront.

ehf-euro.com: Four more 'Most Valuable Player'-awards followed in the upcoming years – what does those individual awards mean to you?
Ivano Balic: Of course, they were great personal accolades, as they prove that you did your job well. But as mentioned I cannot reach those awards without the help of my teammates – so still the success of the team was most important for me.

ehf-euro.com: One incredible moment was when all Danish spectators cheered “Ivano Balic” in Lillehammer in 2008 after the EHF EURO final, when you were awarded best centre back back after losing against Denmark. What did you feel despite missing the gold medal?
Ivano Balic: It was a gorgeous moment, which made me feel so proud. This moment eclipsed the pains after this final defeat – but only a little.

ehf-euro.com: You are Olympic and world champion, but you never became EHF EURO champion although you were part of five EHF EURO semi-finals. What went wrong in those tournaments?
Ivano Balic: In final matches you need to be at your best possible performance. Either we were not good enough in those matches or we lacked luck! Everything must fit 100 per cent to reach a final or to win a title.

ehf-euro.com: You are in international top handball player for more than a decade. What has changed on the court since then?
Ivano Balic: Handball became faster and more physical. The players are physically more robust compared to the start of my career. Unfortunately I have to add that the level of handball has decreased tactics-wise.

ehf-euro.com: What was your favourite tournament with the national team?
Ivano Balic: The World Championship 2003 in Portugal. It was the first time for my generation to win a gold medal for Croatia. Also winning the 2004 Olympic Games was fantastic.

ehf-euro.com: And what was the most remarkable experience on club level?
Ivano Balic: I really appreciated my time at San Antonio, one of the best clubs of the world at that time. They had signed me to build a new team for the future with me as the focal point.

It was a great experience and I really like to look back on those years, as I extremely developed from the sportive and the human point of view.

ehf-euro.com: Croatia, Spain, back to Croatia, back to Spain – and now Germany: What were the reasons to join HSG Wetzlar at the start of the season?
Ivano Balic: When the Atletico Madrid handball section closed, I had no contract and did not know exactly what to do. I only heard good things about HSG Wetzlar and so I decided to transfer to Germany.

The Bundesliga is the best league of the world. Handball is fast and attractive here - and I felt that I still can prove myself again in another country.

ehf-euro.com: After the Olympic Games in London 2012 you have not been nominated for the national team anymore – was it hard to come to terms with that?
Ivano Balic: No, as I was afraid that this situation would happen. I played fewer and fewer after the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia for the national team, so it was not that hard to predict what will come. Certainly I was disappointed, but such is life!

ehf-euro.com: A huge number of top players switch from player to become a coach after their active career. Is this an option for you?
Ivano Balic: Currently it is really hard to imagine becoming a coach – but you never know!


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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