INTERVIEW: Spaniard Iker Romero will end his professional career at the end of this season with an impressive number of trophies in his cabinet.
Romero looks back – and forward
Since his professional debut in Valladolid in 1997, Füchse Berlin centre back Iker Romero has collected a number of trophies – both in club handball and with the Spain national team.
The highlight of his career was the time spent with FC Barcelona under coach Valero Rivera. With Barcelona, Romero won two EHF Champions League titles (2005, 2011), two ASOBAL League titles, four Spanish Cups, one European Supercup, four Spanish Supercups and one ASOBAL Cup.
Prior to Barca, he won a Spanish Cup and two Cup Winners’ Cups with Ciudad Real.
Romero was part of the national team that won the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympic Games (2008), a bronze medal at the World Championship 2011 in Sweden, and a silver medal at the EHF EURO 2006.
In the last stage of his professional career, Romero joined Berlin for his first berth in the Bundesliga in 2011.
With Füchse he reached the VELUX EHF FINAL4 (2012), and in 2014, won the DHB Cup and played the EHF Cup Finals. On 31 May, Romero will play the last European Cup game of his career, in the Max-Schmeling-Halle.
This is your fourth season in Germany. How do you describe the experience with Füchse Berlin?
Iker Romero: The experience was amazing. We spent four years here and I’ve really enjoyed the team. When you spend nine years in Barcelona and you have to change teams it is clear you will be going for less, but I’m enjoying Bundesliga and I’ve been very lucky with these four years in Füchse – it could not get better.
Füchse Berlin has been improving over the last four seasons.
Iker Romero: Between Champions League, EHF Cup and DHB Cup we have reached five finals events in three years. It’s a very good result. We have a mixed team of young players and veterans. I am one of the veterans. We have a good rapport.
And what do you think of the Bundesliga?
Iker Romero: It's another world. People say it's the handball NBA, and it's true. The Germans set everything up very well. They care deeply about the sponsors, spectators, the show at the games, selling the image of the league in the media. In Berlin, they have a lot of elite sports, and at our matches we have an average of 8,000 spectators.
Six-eight years ago the best players were with Barcelona, Ciudad Real, San Antonio and Valladolid in the ASOBAL league. Now the best players are in the Bundesliga – that’s how to sell it. You can go to any court and it would be unusual not to see it full. The Spanish league can learn from all of this.
What do you think needs to be done in Spain?
Iker Romero: A full reset. People make excuses and excuses are always bad. We have had very good years with great players, a lot of money, great clubs, but we managed it badly. They squandered everything and we didn’t sell our product well. Then came the economical crisis and it destroyed everything.
I think we have one of the best junior teams of the world. We have a national team that is always at the top, and we are respected around the world. We should take advantage of this and start doing serious things to attract people to handball.
The Spanish Federation and the ASOBAL league cannot be fighting each other – we have to look forward because we all have our share of the blame.
The clubs need to be willing to put everything in order. We cannot think that we will be the Bundesliga in two years, because it is not possible. We need to go slowly and do things well.
I think handball is a sport that hooks. Very few people see a live game and after say they don’t like it because it's boring. You must take advantage of this, you have to talk to the media, you have to bet on it, and you have to make the sponsors bet on it. You have to make people give a chance to the sport that was the third most important in Spain 10 years ago.
Have you thought of ending your career in the ASOBAL League even though you would earn less money?
Iker Romero: I've never driven by money. Some ASOBAL clubs have made offers but I don’t want it. I have been fortunate to always be in the best clubs and earn a good living. My challenge was to finish when my body said enough. I didn’t want to keep playing and have my game get worse.
My knees are very bad. I know it and doctors have also said. I have done my best and I am very proud of what I've done. Of course I could keep playing, and I have offers, but I don’t want to end up dragging. I fought hard for 19 years and I don’t want to finish dragging.
Was leaving Barca the saddest moment of your career?
Iker Romero: In that moment, yes, it was. But handball is only a sport and it’s not a thing that makes me suffer too much. At that time it was hard, but I've always thought that if something happens it is because things will get better.
Of course I would have liked to finish my career in Barcelona, but they didn’t want me to continue with the club – so then I could enjoy Berlin for four years. I've been enjoying the Bundesliga, another language, and another culture.
You’ve decided to retire twice – how did you know you were ready this time?
Iker Romero: When I was 25 years old playing in Barcelona I thought I would always be the same, and it turns out I’m just lame, skinny, bald, like everyone. I realised last year I could only play for one more year. When Fuchse told me that didn’t want to resign me I decided to retire because I didn’t want to go to another team. But in the end Fuchse wanted me to play for one more year – and I knew that would be the last round of boxing.
From now, what will become of the life of Iker Romero?
Iker Romero: I will start the life I wanted for 19 years. These 19 years have been incredible because handball gave me all good, but it has not allowed me to be with my family and with my people. Now I return to Vitoria, but I want to stay tied with handball.
If not, nothing happens. Life goes on. I’m turning 35 – I hope it’s half-life! I'm not afraid of what will happen. Everything always turns out well.
TEXT: Adria Barrio / cg
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