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06.03.2015, 12:48
A new ambassador of Swiss handball
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RISING STARS OF 2015: 21-year-old Nikola Portner had his first taste of the VELUX EHF Champions League this season. But the Swiss international is already thinking way beyond
 

A new ambassador of Swiss handball

When Nikola Portner, at just 21, says that he wants to be ‘the best goalkeeper in the world’, one immediately asks how he can back up such a bold claim.

Once one gets to know him a bit better, it surfaces that this young man has some reason to say so.

First of all there are his genes. His father Zlatko Portner was one of the handball stars in the 1980s. Three times he won the Champions Cup, the predecessor of the EHF Champions League: Twice with Yugoslavian side Metaloplastika Sabac (1985, 1986) and once with FC Barcelona.

This influenced his son: "My dad has had a huge influence on me playing handball, of course.

"He had all his trophies at home, and they happened to be stored in my room," recalls Portner. "This makes you want to do achieve the same. It wasn't the plan initially, but step by step, I became interested in what he was doing."

"I watched videos of my dad playing and that showed me the way."

Having the same name as his father is not a pressure for Portner: "I play handball only for myself, not for anyone else. I’m proud to have such a background, and he helps me in many occasions, for example when it comes to important decisions or analysing games."

Leaving for Montpellier

And speaking of major decisions, Portner, who takes to the court for Kadetten Schaffhausen, took one recently by signing with French side Montpellier from the beginning of the 2016/17 season.

"Let's face it, playing in the Swiss league has never been the ultimate goal for me," he explains, full of confidence.

"I've been honest with everybody since the beginning. I want to win titles in other countries and joining Montpellier, who have been the leaders in France for decades, seemed quite a natural step.

"Their coach, Patrice Canayer, called me to tell me how much he wanted to recruit me. When you're 21 and such a man, with such a record, calls you, it means the world to you."

The fact that he will join a club full of young players who are hungry for success was an additional reason for signing with the 2003 EHF Champions League winner.

"There are a lot of players in Montpellier with a lot of talent and who want to make their mark on handball," he says.

"I'm sure I'll fit in there perfectly, because we'll have the same ambitions, the same will to go in the right direction."

Challenging Europe’s best this season

But before he joins Montpellier in about 18 months, Nikola Portner will continue to wear the Kadetten Schaffhausen jersey with whom he played the group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League this season.

"It's something that I dreamt of when I was a little boy," he admits. "When I stepped onto the court for our first match against Kielce, it warmed my heart to finally be part of this big carousel everyone wants to join."

The 21-year-old knows that this is the competition in which young players can show themselves and progress even further.

"Taking part in the EHF Champions League provided me with a lot of self-confidence. When you stop a shot by a player you used to watch on TV, when you see that you're helping the team, it lifts you up."

This holds true for Portner despite the fact that Schaffhausen did not make it to the competition’s Last 16.

Progessing with the national team

If the EHF Champions League is a place where Nikola Portner wants to show his talents, he knows he will struggle a little bit more with the national team.

"We're still work in progress at the moment. We've got the potential to make something happen, because there is a lot of talent in our squad."

And while this happens, Nikola Portner might as well become the next Andy Schmid, arguably currently the best Swiss player. Schmid plays for Rhein-Neckar Löwen and has become some kind of Swiss handball ambassador.

"I put everything aside in my life when I chose to join Kadetten, just to focus 100 per cent on handball.

"Andy Schmid is a great example for all of us, and he and Manuel Liniger showed the young Swiss handball players that you have to go abroad to become a great player (Liniger played at TBV Lemgo in Germany for a number of years)."

As mentioned at the very beginning, 21-year-old Nikola Portner has a lot of reasons to back up his claim.


The rising handball stars of 2015

Part 1: Niko Mindegia (ESP) / Pick Szeged: "I dream of playing at the next EHF EURO"

Part 2: Kentin Mahé (FRA) / HSV Hamburg: Walking proudly in his father's steps

Part 3: Sander Sagosen (NOR) / Aalborg Handball: "I want to be the best in the world"

Part 4: Nikola Bilyk (AUT) / Fivers WAT Margareten: "Dreaming of becoming handball's Michael Jordan"

Part 5: Michal Szyba (POL) / Gorenje Velenje: A 'watchmaker' on his way to the peak

Part 6: Michal Kasal (CZE) / Futebol Clube do Porto: A new Jicha on the horizon


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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