INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: Viktor Szilagyi was the victor in all major European Cup competitions and now says “servus” to handball after more than 200 international matches for Austria
“The past and the present are two different worlds”
A great handball career will conclude next week. The World Championship play-offs against Denmark on 12 and 15 June are the last matches for Austrian team captain Viktor Szilagyi. The 37-year-old will remain in handball as sports director of Bergischer HC (Germany), the club he has played with for the last four years.
Born in Budapest, Szilagyi arrived in Austria at the age of six and had handball in his veins, as his father was Hungarian national team player with more than 200 international matches. His son overstepped this mark in spring and the tie against Denmark will be his 202nd and 203rd in the Austrian jersey.
Since the age of 16, Szilagyi played for German clubs such as Tusem Essen, SG Flensburg-Handewitt, THW Kiel and VfL Gummersbach. In total, the playmaker won five European Cup competitions and was the first player ever to win all three major trophies – Champions League (with Kiel), EHF Cup (with Gummersbach and Essen) and the Cup Winners’ Cup (with Flensburg).
In this eurohandball.com ‘Interview of the Week’, Szilagyi looks back on the milestones of his career and ahead his final challenge to help his teammates reach France next January.
Recently you played your 200th international match. What did this milestone mean to you?
Viktor Szilagyi: It was a great moment and a great confirmation that I am able to play at a high level for such a long time. I remember when I had my first international match – it was such a long time ago. It was an incredible time to see how handball developed since then.
When did you decide that the 2015/16 season will be your last as an active player?
Viktor Szilagyi: There was not a special moment or day, it was a development. Of course to finish my active career was in mind in the last years constantly, but now we found a solution to remain part of Bergischer HC in my new position. This job fits, thus it was the perfect timing to stop. I am nearly 38 now and playing in the Bundesliga for 16 years left its bruises.
You were the first handball player to win all major European Cup trophies – EHF Champions League, EHF Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. What is the special ingredient for your success?
Viktor Szilagyi: It was a journalist who informed me about that fact; I even did not know it before. Every title, every trophy was something very special, as I managed to win those trophies with different clubs and different teams.
Every title has its own special story. You start a season with a certain objective and when you achieve it, it is such a great feeling of success. When you hold the trophy in your hands – regardless which trophy – you understand why you work so hard. Every title pushes you to win more.
What was your highlight in the Austrian national team?
Viktor Szilagyi: Of course all major tournaments we have played, but mainly EHF EURO 2010, when we were the hosts. I guess this was the initial point of the highly successful era of Austrian handball.
We did not qualify for other events before, there were pre-qualifications and disappointments. Then we were qualified as hosts – and from that event on we confirmed our performing level by qualifying for world and European Championships. This was the result of the teamwork of all in and around the team, the players, the coaches and the staff at the federation, simply everybody.
Before, during and after the EHF EURO 2010, Dagur Sigurdsson was the Austrian national team coach. How big was his imprint on you, the team and Austrian handball?
Viktor Szilagyi: He brought the team ahead, he brought each player ahead. We had several non-Austrian coaches like Markovic and Osmann before, and each of them left a legacy, but I believe that Dagur pushed the team in the right direction; he had opened the eyes of everybody that we should not be afraid of any big names. Then we managed to beat big teams.
When you compare the significance of the Austrian national team today with the time when you started your international career – what has changed?
Viktor Szilagyi: Everything. The past and the present are two different worlds. When I started to play for the national team, we played in little school gyms, now thousands of fans attend our sold-out matches in huge multi-purpose arenas, this is the biggest change in the significance. We have a constant improvement in every department.
Handball will be a part of your personal future – will we see you as a coach?
Viktor Szilagyi: Now I will start my job in the management, but I will soon start working on my coaching licences. I want to get as much input from various aspects of the sport as possible.
Who will be your successor in the national team? Does Nikola Bilyk have the chance to step up?
Viktor Szilagyi: You cannot compare me and Nikola. In some departments, he is already better than me, but in others, mainly the experience, I am ahead. I was inspired by other team captains like Lövgren or Torgovanov, before I became team captain.
I hoped that I could imprint a younger generation, but in the end, all new players have to live this spirit of the team and take over responsibility as players.
Your final handball matches will be the World Championship qualifiers against Denmark. Do Austria have a chance to make it?
Viktor Szilagyi: Unfortunately we suffer from some injuries, so we cannot play our regular style and level. We will have to see.
In general it is our aim to play at the highest possible level. Those matches against top teams are important to learn for the future. And if we have any chance, of course we will try to grab it.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
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