Schwalb: “It is all about the Löwen team, not about me”
In February 2020, Martin Schwalb arrived at Rhein-Neckar Löwen to replace Swedish coach Kristján Andrésson. Fifteen months later it is fair to say Schwalb has left his mark on the team, before he returns to HSV after the season.
Schwalb, who won Olympic silver in 1984 as a player, is still the only German coach to win the EHF Champions League – with Hamburg in 2013, the same year his current club Löwen won the EHF Cup.
Before his departure, the 58-year-old Schwalb wants to steer Löwen to the winners’ podium of the EHF Finals Men this weekend on the team’s home court, SAP Arena in Mannheim.
eurohandball.com: How important would this title be for you and the club, before you say farewell to the Löwen?
Martin Schwalb: It would be incredibly nice for Rhein-Neckar Löwen to win this title. It is about the team and Rhein-Neckar Löwen, it is not about Martin Schwalb. The team is going through a real mammoth program, the club has deserved to win this title.
eurohandball.com: After losing the first leg of the quarter-final in Chekhov, were there doubts whether you would make it to the EHF Finals?
Martin Schwalb: Yes, a coach always has doubts - that keeps you fresh, young and alert. But, of course, I always believed we would get through. But you always have certain doubts left in our beautiful sport, because very quickly it can go in the other direction.
eurohandball.com: Löwen were the first winners of the EHF Cup under its new format in 2013; now Löwen can become the first winners of the EHF European League.
Martin Schwalb: We have a lot of competition with Berlin, Magdeburg and Plock. On such a final weekend, it always depends on which team has the flow, which team feels comfortable, which goalkeeper is outstanding. So, all four teams currently have a chance to win the trophy, so I will not name any favourite.
eurohandball.com: What are Löwen’s three biggest trump cards or assets compared to their competitors?
Martin Schwalb: We play with full speed, the cooperation between Andy Schmid and Jannik Kohlbacher really works well, and we try to play with different defensive variants. Those could be our advantages but naming some is always difficult for me because the others do a good job, too.
eurohandball.com: Does home advantage exist?
Martin Schwalb: It is a great sign that the tournament is at our home, but it is sad that no fans are allowed in. We don't have a home advantage based on spectators, but we know the hall well and hope that we can use that to our advantage.
eurohandball.com: What do you have to look out for the most in the semi-final against Füchse Berlin?
Martin Schwalb: Above all, we have to be aware of the individual strengths of their players. We recently lost our home match in the Bundesliga against them and Jacob Holm, Lasse Andersson, Paul Drux and Fabian Wiede made for a really strong backcourt. We have to counter it properly in defence, in attack we have to keep the Füchse defence running. They have an incredible amount of defensive strength and experience. When they feel safe and secure, it is very difficult to score goals against them.
eurohandball.com: What are the most important experiences you take from your time with the Löwen?
Martin Schwalb: It is a great team, a great club, I really enjoyed working here with the boys and everyone from the club. After the pandemic, when we can return to a normal life, I hope to get to know a few Löwen fans and we can spend a few nice hours together, even when I am no longer their coach.
I want to achieve the title for the club, for the team, for everyone together, not for me personally. I don't look at statistics like that. We want to win and do everything we can to win.
eurohandball.com: How do you rate the European League in general, also in comparison to the EHF Champions League?
Martin Schwalb: The European League is of a very high quality, we already had really good opponents in the group phase. It is not the Champions League, but there are really good teams like Gudme, Schaffhausen, Medvedi, Berlin, Magdeburg. The fact that Melsungen failed in the qualification says a lot about the quality of the competition.
eurohandball.com: You are the only German coach who has won the EHF Champions League and now you can match Alfred Gislason by winning both the Champions League and the second-tier European competition. How important are such trophies to you?
Martin Schwalb: Really, really, I don't care! I don't need such trophies. I want to achieve the title for the club, for the team, for everyone together, not for me personally. I don't look at statistics like that. We want to win and do everything we can to win. It is not about my personal interest, it is about the team’s interest to have a nice party afterwards and celebrate a great title.