2020 21 FINAL (2)
EHF Champions League

This is me: Henrik Møllgaard

Everybody loves the top scorers, right? They get all the plaudits and all the attention. However, defensive specialists are harder to get by. Some of them are the unsung heroes of handball because their work is difficult to pinpoint. The best defensive player of the 2020/21 season of the EHF Champions League, Henrik Møllgaard, says nobody likes the players who ruin the game and take all the fun out of it. But here he is, in his own words: a mountain of a man with a soft spot for cooking and a loving father, whose daughters make him a bit jealous when they play handball. You're going to like this.

A few months ago, I dropped my oldest daughter, she is 10 years old now, to her first mini handball tournament, which took place during a weekend, here in Denmark. My youngest daughter, who is now six, has also took up handball last year.

It is not the high-profile handball life one might imagine. The beginnings are always humble for each and every one of us. You sleep on the floor, you play eight games during a weekend, you live off candy and all these things are why handball is magical.

And it is amazing to see them, my joy and my pride, on the court. It fills my heart with pride. Not only because they are my kids, whom I love most than anything, but because I really see myself starting handball and being with my friends, spending time together and forging the bonds between us.

I am 37 years old now, I am not as fast as I was back then. But the memories? They are for eternity, they will always be with me and I will always be proud for what I achieved. Remember, I was a boy from a small Danish town, who became a world and an Olympic champion and played for one of the greatest teams ever assembled, Paris Saint-Germain Handball.

But when I dropped my daughter at the clubhouse and they got on the bus, I was actually a little jealous because that was me 25 years ago. And that is what it all should be about. Win or lose, it does not matter. They were just going to have a great weekend and have plenty of stories to talk about for the next six months.

I was actually jealous because I would do it all over again, especially now that my playing days are closer to being over than entering my prime. Because I love handball and this is what defines me as a person, as a man, as the natural team player that I am.

2021 22 Season (5)

I started when I was six years old. I come from a small village, but the typical Danish village has a school and a hall, where you can go and play. I was doing everything related to sports – table tennis, tennis, football, swimming. But I really got mixed up into team sports. I knew by then I was attracted to this.

But to live off handball? To play a sport as my means of putting something on the table? No way! It was not my childhood dream. I thought I was going to be something else. Maybe a chef?

I dreamed of being a chef. You know, cooking the best meals in the world? Who would not want that? But it is not so easy to be a part-time handball player and then get on with your life trying to do something else.

So, I chose handball, as my first contract was ready when I was 18 years old.

But I did not forget about being a chef. Or a cook, whatever you may call it.

Even at this point in the life, me and my girlfriend still like to cook. She is excellent, unfortunately my time is limited, so I do not do it as much as I would like.

But we do it around our children, they love being around in the kitchen. It is not high cuisine for us, but we love to experiment on things. We are getting more and more into lean meat and vegetables. The classical steak and French fries are a bit in the rearview mirror for me. Like the whole world, I guess.

Yet that life probably was not for me. Because I loved to play handball. A lot. Every moment. Every second. When I was at the start of my career, I would try to play on the left wing. During some practice sessions of the women’s team there, I would also chime in and play as a goalkeeper.

The main thing about me is that I like to stay true to what I do. Always to my family. Always to handball. This helped me a lot during my career, because I needed to accept some things that others might have not been interested in.

Listen, I always liked to play the attack. See, I think nobody would like to see a player ruining the game. Because this is what defence is about. Stopping the opponents scoring. I told you about my daughters playing handball and I reckon they would not like an opponent to come and stop them. It is taking all the fun out of the game.

Eventually, I became that person. Maybe that was my place, that was where my career was going to be all along. This is how the story is written, you know. And it took a lot to accept it. Because I was not the star of the team, on one position, yet on the other hand, I was the jack of all trades, I could fill every hole in a team.

2020 21 FINAL (1)

It might sound silly, but from a personal point of view, the highest I have been in my entire career when was PSG came calling in 2015. I know, I have won everything there is, well, maybe except the EHF EURO with Denmark, but the moment I got that call, I really felt amazing.

Here was this team with a great coach, Noka Serdarusic, with these amazing players like Mikkel Hansen, Nikola Karabatic, Daniel Narcisse and they wanted me. Me? Really? I know I was the top scorer of the Danish league, but from all the players in the world, they wanted me.

They explained I was the last piece of the puzzle, to create this team that was going to challenge for trophies. The catch? I would need to be the defensive lynchpin of this squad.

God, I am not going to lie. I would prefer being the guy that scored the most goals than to be the one that stops other in defence. But I learnt to accept that other players are more talented than me, better than me. And that is a lesson, I think, to maximise your potential wherever it is needed.

But this experience made me a better person. Because it was not about adapting to a new city, one of the biggest and busiest in Europe, which, by the way, I loved. It was training every day with some of the biggest handball stars and be at the best level I could.

I did not feel like an outsider. But I really believed that I was called and was offered a seat at the big table. And because those guys were in their prime. Those were some of the best players we have ever seen. For me, I really had to work my ass off every day to just compete.

It made a huge difference. It was the pinnacle of my career. The proof that if you work hard enough, good things will come back to you. However, I missed playing in attack. One tip for all the defenders out there: think about the defence as you would be the attacking player. I moulded my game on this, it is a bit like chess. But you can get better and better.

2021 22 Season (1)

Eventually, I got back to Denmark, where I could play once again in both phases of the game. And here, I found solace.

Because when I drop my daughters off at the local hall to play handball, it means the world to me. I am a bit jealous, I told you that already, because for them, handball is not work and they do not care yet about the needs when getting older or injured and flying off to, let’s say Montpellier, on a Tuesday.

For me, handball was all about being with my friends and it was just… it was just fun. And you could play handball on Tuesday and football on Wednesday and go swimming on a Friday. For them, it is just perfect at this point. And I am truly lucky that I am moving into this phase of my life and my life now where I can live off their joy and happiness because I still enjoy going to practice every day.

Otherwise, I would stop. Yet something keeps me here. I always said when I retire from handball, I would never come back. Somehow, I am changing my mind.

There is a part of me now that says that I would be crazy to throw away 20,000 hours of practice I have spent to be the best I could be. But we will see. Soon, I have to find out where my next steps will put me.

Right now? I enjoy challenging the best players in the world and seeing my young daughters grow up. The perfect story for a player who thrives on ruining things on the court, right?


Henrik Møllgaard
April 2022

2021 22 Season (8)

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