World champion, European champion (Cup Winners’ Cup), champion of France, Norway, Spain and Hungary : former french international player Raphaëlle Tervel had an exceptional career. While she achived her first successes in her hometown, with Besançon, she had to move abroad to finally get the Graal: the Champions League, won in 2013 with Győr. With few days remaining before the Final 4, where her team is clearly favourite to keep the title, she kindly accepted to review her career and today’s handball, in an exclusive interview. After her morning training at Széchenyi University, she spoke about her life throughout Europe and her projects, the handball scene in France and abroad. A really interesting overview before going back to work, with only one aim : one more trophy before retirement (photos : Márta Kállai).
You have been playing here in Győr for 2 seasons, in Hungary, why did you leave France ?
After 10 years in Besançon, I had seen almost everything. I was lucky to play there at the good times, when we were winning everything (see box below). I wanted to see something else and most of all, I wanted to win the Champions League. If you are French and you want to win the Champions League, at the moment, you have to go abroad because, of course, the French championship is improving, but it’s still far, especially in terms of money, from being able to achieve something at this level. What happened is that Bera Bera (Spain) was interested and it went this way. It turned bad over there, some troubles with my coach, we were not on the same « wavelength » and I left in the middle of the year, in Larvik. I arrived in January, I didn’t play there for the whole season, Larvik was good but … the change was radical. I felt good in Spain : good atmosphere, I had many friends and even learnt to speak Spanish, language was not a barrier. I arrived in Larvik where I was the only foreign player : they were all Norwegians and somehow, it was really difficult. Here, we are 5 foreign players … in Larvik I felt really lonely, and I wasn’t satisfied : I went there to play in central defence and that was not what I had done, so I called Itxako’s managers, who had contacted me by the past. I told them I wanted to come back to Spain, they were building a big team, they were interested, I ended there ! And here we are, when Ambros (Martin, Itxako’s former coach) signed there (in Győr), he asked me if I wanted to follow him : I didn’t hesitate.
He urged the club a little bit …
Yes. At the beginning, they were not keen about it, they didn’t know me then … and now, they don’t want me to leave !
If Győr hadn’t offered you that contract, what would you have done ? Retirement ?
I don’t know because I did not want to stop. I didn’t ask myself … since Itxako was going straight to bankrupt, I don’t really know what I would have done. I would have come back to Besançon, I think. I would have ended my career there. Yes, it was Győr or Besançon.
And this year ?
This year, it’s sure, is my last year. Definitely. I have got some troubles, especially with my ankle.
You said that you wanted to train : women or men ? Youngsters or pros ?
Women, I think. And then, I don’t know, it will depend on the opportunities : I would like to stay at high-level because that is what I know the best, where I will be able to bring the most. But at the same time, training young women seems also interesting to me because, when I see the girls arriving in the French national team, with an obvious lack of basis, I get annoyed. I don’t know, I don’t want to pressure myself, I will see, when time comes, what is possible for me. For the moment, I will take a year off, to breathe a little bit. Then I will fully start again.
All these countries you have been to, what did they bring to you ? In a professional but also personal way …
I am really happy about these choices because there were 4 different types, for me, for the culture and for handball. It was great because I experienced the nordic culture : the way they see handball, which is really different from the Latin or East European way. It’s good for me as a trainer for the future. I would like to take the best of all, mix them and « let’s go » ! Doing things by myself but picking what I have appreciated in each country. It’s obvious that the physical training we did in Larvik, I never did it anywhere else. It’s not a coincidence if they are the best on fast-breaks. They focus a lot on physical work. More than in Spain where we almost never ran. On a more personal point of view, I have learnt to speak Spanish and discovered the great life over there. I loved the atmosphere, the « fiesta », going out with friends. The sun also, it’s different from Besançon !
Precisely, is it not too hard to be that far from home ?
I got used to it. Fortunately, Skype does exist : when you are abroad, your best friend is your computer. I get used to it and then, when I have 2-3 days off, I go back home. That is also why after 20 years playing high-level handball, I need to stop, I need to do everything I haven’t done for 20 years. And also visit friends and family. I want to take the time to visit everybody. To realise projects I have, besides handball. If I don’t do it now, if I start right now to train, it will ever be the same, I will not have the time.
« People are true fans and never hesitate to take days off to come to support us everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. »
Hungarian language, everyday, how is it ?
With the girls, it is kind of difficult because it builds barriers between us. Last year, the President put everybody back to school : the foreign players should learn to speak Hungarian, and the Hungarians had English courses. I think it was a good idea even if we had only one hour a week, and that we speak mostly English ! It is good for us, if there are words we want to know, the teacher is here to help us and it is better than nothing. The coach speaks in English.
The team has a lot of supporters : in Ljubljana (400 km from Győr), they were at least 2 buses …
That is not something we can see in France, like these little rituals at the end of the games.
For sure. That is what I like in here, and that I’ve never seen anywhere else, neither in Norway, nor in Spain or in France. Among all the countries I played in, this is the only place where people are fans, absolute fans and they never hesitate to take days off to come to support us everywhere, everywhere, everywhere (last season, the most loyal supporters journeyed for more than 15 000 km through Europe to follow their team). Even if it costs money and that they are not rich, almost all the money they earn is put into travelling. So fortunately, from our side, we try to give it back to them … On the court, by giving everything to win the games and by sharing with them, at the end, by clapping their hands. These things are free but are really important for them and for us. It’s just amazing to be sure to have people behind us, everywhere we go. It’s something very typical from here and it’s the best public I have ever seen.
There is approximatively the same in Podgorica …
No but them … for sure, they are noisy. But they are here mostly to insult people, to spit on players, while our public is more respectful. They are here to encourage us, they don’t spit on the others, all these things … I think ours are more sympathetic ! Budućnost, it is a loud atmosphere, for sure. We played there with Bera Bera and our goal-keeper was a target : the supporters spit on her when she was catching the ball behind the goal. In Macedonia, people throw you cans … here in Hungary, I have never seen such things.
« In Hungary, men or women, there will be audience. »
During last year Champions League, Győr was on the cover of the Nemzeti Sport during one week … isn’t it surprising, when we know that a woman on the cover of « l’Equipe » means fewer sells.
In France, we are still trying, with the 24h of women’s sport …
I follow that on Twitter …
But Hungary is far from being the country of equality and you say that they move ahead from this gap between men and women in sport.
Yes, definitely, and more than that, all the games are broadcast on TV. For example on Digi : Ferencváros plays in Viborg, they broadcast it. Men or women, there will be an audience. But I don’t know why, maybe people are more into handball here than in France ?
This problem of promotion of women’s sport is complicated : at the beginning they told us to win titles, that it was because we didn’t win anything that people didn’t care about us. But then, you realise that you arrive 2-3 times to the final, that you are World Champion and in the end, it does not change anything.
And you are kind of « privileged » in handball, compared to some other sports, you are on Sport+ every time there is a big competition.
It’s changing, but it is also because the federation and its managers are trying to do something, and it’s working well. There are more and more games on TV, even games from the French championship this year. Considering other sports, like basketball or volleyball, it is even more difficult. I guess it is also about money, it is like everything, they will broadcast profitable sports. We should create a free channel, especially for « women’s sports » !
Paradoxically, arenas are full for women’s handball in France.
Yes, they are … when we organized the 2007 World Championships, all the arenas were complete, no matter if France was playing or not, in Nîmes or Saint-Brieuc or wherever else, all the arenas were full. No more free seat. While everywhere else, during the Euro or World Championships in Serbia for example, arenas was almost empty. Except when the hosts were playing. The World Championships in China werea disaster, we arrived to train and there were 10 people watching us … Honestly, in terms of public, the World Championships in France were really good. But there was also a big work from the league who organized the event. Much credit is to be given to the federation.
« Big French clubs, like Metz, like Fleury, can’t compete with teams like Győr in Champions League »
You spoke about Itxako’s bankrupt : this season, Krim (Slovenia) and Viborg (Danemark) are in trouble, but at the same time, in Romania, they are recruiting to create dream-teams. A good thing ?
After Vâlcea’s case … At Vardar, it looks ok, one billionaire arrived, it looks sustainable, girls extended their contracts and they signed other players (Andrea Penezić, Barbara Lazović and Anja Althaus) so it looks good … until this guy goes away. That is the risk. In Romania, it’s the same, after Vâlcea, we can’t know what will happen. Bucarest is signing a lot of players whereas the club is not even qualified for the next Champions League.
You don’t agree with these projects …
No, no, but, I don’t like it, actually … I don’t know, there is no stability, no development in the clubs, no education, it is like : « I buy players with my millions » but there is nothing behind it. I don’t know, it is not the idea I had of handball but it is now obvious that everything is about money …
Currently, women’s handball, which was played mostly in Scandinavia, is moving to the Balkans, isn’t it ?
Where money is. That is unfortunate but it goes this way and we can’t do anything. In France, why don’t we get results in Champions League ? Because clubs have small budgets. Big structures like Metz, like Fleury, can’t compete with teams like Győr, Krim, Vardar in Champions League. We are still light years away from them.
But at the same time, LFH is more and more attractive for foreign players.
It is beginning to attract players, good players, and that is good, the level is increasing. LFH is a homogeneous championship, more than in any other country. I mean, we can’t complain in here, in Hungary, the championship is interesting, with 5-6 teams who have a really good level. But compared to the Austrian league where Hypo has no opponent, or in Macedonia, where there is not even a championship … in France, it is starting to develop. Any team can beat any team. And LFH is a real professional league, it avoids problem we can see everywhere else in Europe. This is the reason that will lead players to come to France. With CNCG, everything is under control and there are less risks for a club to go to bankrupt. When the players have played in one or two clubs that couldn’t pay them, maybe they will think about earning less money but being sure to get paid.
On the opposite, the best French players, like you, move abroad … and come back, like Alexandra Lacrabère, recently.
She didn’t cope with the country, the team, the way of life. It’s also depends of the destination ! And the reason why, most of the girls move is for the money or the Champions League. That is the problem : if you want to win the Champions League, you have to leave for a rich club. At Vardar, girls earn twice what they earned in France, maybe 3 or 4 times.
In Champions League, how do you explain what happened in both groups ? We were not expecting any suspense in group 1 and a « death group » 2, finally, it’s quite different …
I really thought Vardar Skopje would have dominated group 1; it could have been open between the 3 others but finally, they struggled. But we need to remember that this is a new team and it shows also that money is not enough : you need time, rules, to learn to know each other and play well together. And it shows also that if you don’t play like a team, you are not invincible. At Vardar, they still need time to be a real team, and it will come, a few weeks remain before Final 4. And they will be better next year and even better the year after. Here in Győr, there are lot of individualities but they have been playing together since 3/4 years, they know each other really well and I think we can feel it on the court.
In group 2, everything could have been played during the last day …
When we saw the draw, we just said to each others : « ok, that is a death group ». Among the 5 serious contenders to the title, 4 were in the same group … And finally, we can see Larvik facing big difficulties and Krim … they play honourably because they had really good games despite the context.
Győr- Budućnost !
Interview published initially on the blog Gi Aldri Opp, reproduced with authorization.