INTERVIEW – Barcelona captain Victor Tomas spoke to the (Un)informed Handball Hour podcast about the upcoming VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final against Nantes and his club’s new and entertaining style of play.
By Chris O’Reilly
Record EHF Champions League winners Barça Lassa return to European action on Wednesday night, having skipped the Last 16 stage, as they head to the home of last season’s beaten finalists HBC Nantes.
As well as having so much on the line, this encounter has added significance due to the familiarity between the two teams. Four Barcelona players are French, while four Nantes players used to wear the famous Blaugrana jersey Tomas has worn since he was a child.
Nantes scored a famous victory when the sides met in the group phase last season and Barça’s captain appreciates the difficulties his opponents will pose on Wednesday night.
“It’s very difficult to prepare for Nantes, they have a lot of options in the back court, they can play with a left or right-hander as a playmaker. Gurbindo, Lazarov and Claire all make the team play a different way when they’re in the centre, so it’s not easy.”
Putting on a good show
Since winning the title in 2015, the Catalan side have had a mixed bag of results in Europe, losing in the quarter-final, then semi-final, before being knocked out in the Last 16 by Montpellier last season, their worst finish in almost a decade.
However, there was clearly a plan in place for the squad and that plan is coming to fruition. The focus on fast, relentless attacking handball has been a treat for fans to watch and a nightmare for opposition teams.
“The club did a great job bringing in the new players this year, they brought in players to play exactly the way we’re playing this year. They wanted one less attack-defence change, which meant taking the difficult decision not to sign Viran Morros again, so they prepared the team to play this way.
“We began preparing this style of handball in August and I think it’s happier, more enjoyable and better for the spectators to watch, it gives them a good show.”
This style of play saw Barcelona comfortably win Group A, scoring 31 goals more than the next best team in the competition, PSG, and handed them a bye into the quarter-finals.
“Take time to find ourselves”
Skipping the Last 16 means it has been almost two months since their last competitive game in Europe, this coupled with the lack of top opposition in Spain means they may be at a slight disadvantage.
Tomas is not willing to say whether or not this break from Europe’s top flight is a help or hindrance, but accepts they will have to quickly shake off any ring rust.
“It’s been so long since our last game in the Champions League, so maybe it will take some time to find ourselves in such a competitive game.”
Among Nantes’ four former Barcelona players, Tomas has a special connection with opposite wing Valero Rivera. The pair grew up playing together and were briefly teammates again when Rivera moved back to Barcelona between 2016 and 2018.
Although there are certain to be hugs and laughs shared at the beginning of the warm-up, it’s purely business once the first whistle blows.
“It’s emotional for me to play against Valero, we were playing together since we were 11, then our careers were split, but he is still a great friend. However, once I’m on the playing court, I have no friends in there.”
Listen to the latest (Un)informed Handball Hour episode below, featuring the interview with Victor Tomas, which also covers the topic of player welfare and the future of the sport.