This is Me Filip Jicha
Filip Jicha. A man who came from a small Czech village to become one if not the biggest name in handball in the world. In his own words and exclusively read first by EHFCL Weekly readers, Filip explains how he rose to stardom after falling in love with handball as a child. From the early days of his career in Qatar and Switzerland to his success with Kiel and Barcelona, he recalls the moments that shaped him as a player and reveals the names of those people close to him who helped him reach his goal of winning the EHF Champions League both as a player and a coach.
THIS IS ME: FILIP JICHA
From a small village to the top of the world
My life would have been completely different, if I would have lived at the other end Starý Plzenec, a little village close to Plzen in the Czech Republic. I lived closed to this outdoor handball court, where all the boys met. On the opposite side there was this football ground, where the boys from the other side used to play football.
At this point, nobody - not least me - could imagine that I would become a handball professional later, a star, and a kind of role model.
Nobody in my family played handball. Really no one. My father was a hockey afficionado. But when I was six, this outdoor handball court was like a magnet to me. It was love at first sight. Handball got under my skin straight away. It was not football and it was certainly not hockey, because my father was quite pragmatic. If you wanted to play hockey, you had to get up at 4.30 in the morning. Due to the lack of ice rinks, the training sessions for the youngsters started at 5.30 and ended before school. My father did not want to get up that early - thanks, Papa!
I played football every day, though. I wanted to be successful in handball, but parallel I still wanted to have football as my hobby. But at a certain point, my mother told me, I needed to decide. It was then I took the really hard decision to become a handball player. It did not take that long when I soon realised: this was the right decision.
I really had fun playing handball, and my biggest motivation was, when others said: This boy is too young to play with the older ones. It imprinted my life to gain acceptance with those older than me. To fight. To stand strong. I showed my attitude to everybody: I really, really do not want to lose, I always want to win. I felt I had to get stronger and harder.
I was ambitious in every single training session, I even hated to lose a training match. But I also realised that handball was such a complex sport that you have to learn so much from experienced players and coaches. In my whole career so many top coaches imprinted me, starting from the one with maybe the biggest impact: Miroslav Moulis, my youth and junior coach in Plzen.
Only thanks to him half of our youth team became professional. Half of our team were nominated for the youth national team - boys from the countryside. Miroslav taught us the principles of sports and life: never be satisfied with anything, always aim higher, always want more, always extend your demand on yourself.
So finally, me and my mates from Plzen went to the national team. I remember we played a tournament, and on the final day I was awarded best player of the competition. This achievement was my biggest motivation for the years that would follow. I had recognised that it made sense to work so hard. And I thought: When you made it there you can reach out for so much more, so I trained evne harder. Our coach forced us to invest more and more.
From junior to men was a huge step. I signed my first handball contract of my career at Dukla Prague as a teenager. I was there on the big stage of handball, but still nobody could guess that finally this boy from Plzen would make it to Kiel or Barcelona. I still was young and a boy who wanted to go his own way and who wanted to gain success – something no Czech before had gained. This was my dream.
So I went abroad, and right after my first training session at my new club I knew. I knew this was wrong. But in the end the decision to join Al-Ahli in Qatar etched in my life. I want more than ever to play in the Qatari league, but I learned a lot about the culture. A year later, I went back to Europe, joined Swiss side Otmar St. Gallen. I had learnt to cope with homesickness, because I did not feel it anymore.
The strategy to go step-by-step was right - and I got to know a man who helped me to go all the way.
My long-term agent Jochen Bergener.
Jochen taught me that to be happy at a club and to have the chance to develop is a bigger asset than your bank account. Life is not all about money. It is about how you build-up your life. Thanks to Jochen Bergener I learnt a lot, and I reached all of my goals.
In Switzerland I had learnt to speak German, and it was a great time at St. Gallen. But it was obvious that I would leave to and play in Germany’s Bundesliga. To play handball in Germany had always been my dream of mine.
I had two offers - THW Kiel or to TBV Lemgo. I went to Lemgo - and I was a bit afraid, how “TBV Germany” with all those World Champions and superstars such as Christian ‘Blacky’ Schwarzer, Florian Kehrmann, Daniel Stephan or Markus Baur would treat this young Czech. Would they eat me alive? I had a huge respect for them but I was wondering whether I was strong enough to survive in the best league of the world, especially among this galaxy of stars.
However, I shouldn’t have worried. They helped me so much - and the coach Volker Mudrow - had one of the best ideas ever: In Czech Republic and Switzerland I only played in attack, but in this totally new playing system in Lemgo - with the ultra-fast throw-off after goals - there was no time for a change of defence and attack. Mudrow told me: “You play as left back and in the middle block, you attack and you defend”. The team and the coach gave me so much confidence, they supported me incredibly - and I managed to fulfil all expectations. In my first two season I scored more than 200 goals in the Bundesliga – and I now knew how to defend in the middle block.
I made history in Czech handball, when I won the first trophy of my life: the EHF Cup, right in my first season at Lemgo. 24 years after the last international title of Dukla Prague, I was the first Czech to be part of a European Cup winning team. I felt so honoured, I was so happy with this trophy. In the moment I rose this cup, I felt magic, I recognised that only very few players in the whole world can feel a moment like this to win a trophy like this. The dream of the little boy from the countryside had come true. I was on the frontpages of the newspapers back home after being the named the best handball player in the world. I was writing my own story.
After two years, I signed for THW Kiel, one of the biggest and best clubs in the world. I arrived full of power and confidence. I thought I already was top player, but after the first three weeks of training I realised: I was a little nobody in this orchestra of stars, a pupil in a group of experts. But I said to myself: Okay, you have to try it, if it does not work, if I fail, I still can go to another Bundesliga club. But once you are at Kiel, you have to grab this chance.
And I did - in the end, I am so grateful that I could be part of this most successful era of this club. We won every title including one perfect season without any defeat in any competition. Time went to fast. It was like a high-speed train carrying me through my career. And in between I was in heaven: I was awarded best handball player of the world. Simply unbelievable. I became team captain of THW Kiel. I was in a line with Magnus Wislander or Stefan Lövgren - two of the best players in the history of handball.
After eight years, the time had come for the last change in my playing career.
It was time for Mes Que Un Club.
More than a club.
I signed for FC Barcelona and my final dream came true. I was part of the most successful club in the world. Any approach to handball in Barcelona was completely different to Germany, I loved it. It was a decision of the head and of the heart. Looking back I know now: without this learning process at Barcelona I would not have become a coach, this was my impetus.
But to be honest: The last two years as a player were no fun. I was injured quite often. Several knee surgeries. Surgery on the pubic bone. I wanted to be the player I but I could not help Barcelona as I had wished to help them. In the end, injuries took the decision for me. It was tough. But that’s how it is in professional sport. However, I was so grateful that I could be part of this club and got to make so many friends in Spain.
When I finished my career as a player - I had played for the two biggest clubs in the world - I was so proud. Nobody could have expected this from this little boy from Bohemia, who went out into the world.
For one year, I left handball. I enjoyed time with my family. I travelled a lot. All along in my head I knew that I want to become a coach. I tried to get as many insights in other sports such as basketball and football. How the coaches work, and what I could learn.
Finally, one day, my family took the decision about my future. If my wife and kids would have said: ‘Filip, it is enough with handball’, I would not have started.
So I returned to Kiel.
I was Alfred Gislason’s assistant for one season with the clear plan to succeed one the most successful coaches in the history of THW Kiel. As assistant I won the EHF Cup. Then, in my first season as head coach - stopped by COVID – we became German champions.
Then, incredibly, we ended 2020 as EHF Champions League winners.
After eight years, the trophy was back. ,My biggest joy was to see the players and all the staff from club celebrating because so many people had contributed so much towards this title.
But it would be the worst thing ever to just rest with a trophy and an achievement like this.
No, the next day, you need to set new goals. You should never be satisfied. When you win the first trophy, the hunger for the second and the third must be bigger and bigger. Only with this permanent hunger, obsession and passion you can improve. This is what I learnt all those years ago from my very first coach at Plzen.
You need to know that if you want to taste the sweet cherry or icing on the cake, you have to suffer for it. Nothing comes easy. Not even this cherry on top. In every training session and every match, you have to overstep this border. Then you can reach out for something big - and having this in mind, even little Filip from Plzen can make it.
This is me.