Barthold: “We are here now and we are here to stay”
Aalborg Håndbold have been the team on everybody’s lips over the past couple of months as a number of big name signings for the coming seasons have made waves across European handball.
However, the current collection of players at the Danish champions have caught enough attention themselves over the past two seasons, claiming some impressive victories and reaching their first EHF Champions League quarter-final.
They face SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the first leg on Thursday (live on EHFTV at 18:45 CEST) and left wing Sebastian Barthold can feel the sense of occasion.
“We are in the middle of a domestic play-off as well, so there is a lot going on, but we are starting to feel like it is the quarter-final now. We have been looking at videos and targeting our practice for a more tactical approach against Flensburg.”
The Norwegian left wing scored nine goals in the tightest clash of the play-offs against Porto, where the two sides could not be separated on the scoreboard after 120 minutes of handball, drawing 56:56, but Aalborg managed a tricky and nervy situation well to progress on the away goals rule.
“It shows that we have something to do in this competition. In the end, it is a mental game to see who can hold their nerve and going through to the quarter-finals was a massive step for us as a team and our personal character as we know we can win these close matches and be among the best teams in Europe.”
That massive step for Barthold and Aalborg has brought them one step closer to a target which everyone in the EHF Champions League dreams of but only few are considered to have a real chance of achieving.
“It is a goal for us to be in the EHF FINAL4, we are meeting Flensburg, who are a great team, both now and historically, so we are up against a really tough competitor, but I believe we showed last year that we can come up against them and win, so we have a lot of confidence that we can do this, coming into the quarter-final as an underdog. We are really ready.”
Flensburg have 12 Scandinavian players in their wider squad and it would not be a huge surprise to see five or six of them on the court at the same time. Facing them is Aalborg’s all-Scandinavian outfit and a whole lot of familiar faces with national teammates and regular opponents.
“It is a bit weird: it is a German team but very many Scandinavians in the team. Four Norwegians as well, some national teammates for me, so it is almost like a Scandinavian derby with two teams who have some of the best Scandinavians at the moment.
“I think it is going to be a high-paced game, we are going to run with them and they are going to run with us and we are going to see a lot of goals. Whoever has the best goalies and the best defence in these two games is going to come out with the win.”
A high-paced and high-scoring game would suit Barthold down to the ground, particularly given the rich vein of form he is in. With 43 goals in Europe since the start of 2021 alone, averaging over seven goals per game, he is one of the top wings in Europe currently.
“I think confidence plays a big part for a lot of wing players. You are not that often in the game, so you need to get going and once you get going, it is like a momentum that you create for yourself.
“We have a lot of games at the moment, so that helps you build it up and go from one game to another feeling that you are in the flow and you can keep riding it. It is a good feeling for all players but particularly us wings.”
On the other side of the court, Europe’s other red hot left wing will be playing for Flensburg, Swede Hampus Wanne.
“Hampus has been playing fantastic, he is in excellent form all season. He was amazing during the World Championship and has just kept on going.
“Like I mentioned with the momentum before, there are two great left wings at Flensburg but Hampus has been in the best form.”
We are building something great here. It is not something that has happened overnight, it has been a continuous project from the club and the director where slowly and steadily we have built a really competitive team.
Regardless of the result of the quarter-final, you get the feeling that Aalborg are going to become regular contenders in Europe’s top flight.
They sent handball fans and media alike into overdrive with the signings of Aron Palmarsson for the next season and Mikkel Hansen in 2022.
Barthold, who has been with the club since 2017, will be part of this exciting new phase for the club, having recently signed a new contract until 2024.
“I am very excited. Henrik Møllgård was saying last season that we are going to the EHF FINAL4, a lot of people laughed about that but we have that dream and that vision and we can already be there this year.
“But we are building something great here. It is not something that has happened overnight, it has been a continuous project from the club and the director where slowly and steadily we have built a really competitive team.
“With these new signings, I think we are manifesting ourselves as the leading team in Scandinavia and that we are attractive for the big names and young talents such as Felix Claar and Lukas Sandell this year.
“Besides Palmarsson and Hansen, we have Jesper Nielsen and Kristian Bjørnsen coming and it is starting to look like a flagship for Denmark.”
The plethora of new names has people talking about the Aalborg team to come, but the 29-year-old is right to point out that this current squad can make a splash of their own right now.
“We strongly believe we can face the top teams, like we did last season and this season. We know that reaching Cologne is really tough, but we enter the court against any team knowing that we can win this match and that is a gamechanger for us.
“Yes, everybody is talking about Aalborg in the next years, but we want to show that we are here now and we are here to stay.”