From the height of his 37 years and 325 selections, Nikola Karabatic is at the same time the oldest, the most capped and the most successful of the Blues selected for the Euro in Hungary and Slovakia.
Triple Olympic champion, quadruple world champion, the Parisian will try to win a fourth continental coronation during a course which begins Thursday in Szeged (Hungary) against Croatia. 20 Minutes interviewed five privileged witnesses of his long and enormous career which began almost 21 years ago. They tell about “their” Niko.
Jérôme Fernandez, former captain of the Blues, on his role as leader in the France team
“Nikola is already a natural leader, he doesn’t need the armband. At the time of Claude [Onesta], he was looking for someone who created links between the different groups of affinities. That’s why he made me captain after Olivier Girault. And that’s also why Cédric Sorhaindo took over.
Now I think Guillaume [Gille] works a bit more at seniority and he’s also trying to put in someone who could be captain for several campaigns, and Nikola is at the end of his career. Valentine [Porte] was the ideal profile. Since Valentin was affected by the Covid-19 and that Luka Karabatic is forfeited, Guillaume naturally turned to Nikola to take over the interim.
Compared to the position of captain, there is a real difference in character between Luka and Nikola. Luka has a bit of a character like mine, with a lot of empathy. It is someone who is at the service of the collective permanently. Nikola is a leader by his character, by his playing on the pitch and he is someone who likes to perform individually, for the group, but because he also wants to be the No.1 in all the matches and in all the competitions. I often compare him to Cristiano Ronaldo. That doesn’t stop him from being a good captain, but he’s much more focused on his individual performance than Luka. Even if the goal for him is for the team to win at the end. “
Arthur Yapo, physical trainer for PSG handball, on his exceptional longevity
“He’s a phenomenon, a superman. With his brother Luka, they are Wolverines. To be able to do what Nikola produces at his age is truly exceptional. Nikola still has this desire, not necessarily to work a lot, but to work fairly. This is how he still manages to be competitive today.
[Sur son retour après sa rupture des ligaments croisés en 2020] He launched a new challenge: “I don’t know if I will return to my best level, but in any case, I will work for.” He was injured in October, he was at the Olympics in July. For a crusader, this is not common, especially at 37 years old. It is his rigor that allowed him to achieve this. He knows himself. He knows when to stop, how to dose the work. He found the desire for work. His family is very close and has helped him a lot.
For the recovery products, Nikola will prefer to take proteins of vegetable origin than animal ones. He’s in tune with that. He is enormously invested in ecology, so obviously he is very careful about what he eats and when he eats it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t eat meat, but not necessarily all the time. He has a very healthy lifestyle. “
Christian Salamez, president of PAUC, the Aix-en-Provence club where Nikola Karabatic relaunched from January to June 2013, during the most delicate period of his career
“For him and his brother Luka, who had signed for the club before, it was a very tense period [ils étaient arrivés à Aix après l’affaire des paris]. They have found a haven of peace and serenity. Thanks to a unanimous positive reception, they were able to digest this difficult period, rebuild themselves and look to the future. Today, Niko and Luka have kept a special relationship with the club, the city, since their agent and friend Bhakti Ong is in Aix and is close to the club.
Nikola’s visit will remain a historic, essential and decisive moment for the PAUC. We refused hundreds and hundreds of spectators, we played all our matches sold out. When he moved around town, there were always crowds. And then, sportingly, it was decisive, because we intended to go back down to the second division, for our first year in D1. From the moment he was on the pitch, we had a series of victories. And we got away pretty easily.
Without him, the club’s progress would have been much slower. He is the best handball player of all time, and he played at PAUC. At the economic level, we had a “partner club” which was in full development, already with great momentum, and its arrival accelerated everything. “
Stefan Lövgren, former Swedish international, on his relationship with his ex-teammate in Kiel, of which he is also the idol
“Before he gets to Kiel [en 2005], I didn’t know I was his idol, but I learned it over time by spending time with him and reading him in interviews in Germany. It made me feel really old though, because you’re old when someone plays with you in one of the best clubs in Europe and tells you that you’re their idol. But I liked Nikola from the first second. He was always very open-minded. He was truly a complete athlete, very humble. There were of course difficulties, like the language, the culture and the championship which changed. But he managed to do well on and off the pitch.
Today, we keep in touch. As I still work in handball [à l’EHF], we get to see each other and I’m more than happy. I hope he is too. I don’t think he learned anything from me, but I can see now that Nikola is an older player, in a positive sense, with more experience. In 2005, we knew he had the potential to become one of the best, but you never know, with injuries or other, if that can be confirmed in the future. It was easy to see. “
“I refused sponsors for ecological reasons”, confides Karabatic https://t.co/th5XfRs0A4
— 20 Minutes (@20Minutes) May 3, 2021
Julien Pierre, CEO of the green label Fair Play for Planet, on his ecological commitment outside the field
“When I presented my project to him, he immediately said ‘yes, it speaks to me’. He was enthusiastic about the idea of contributing, it happened very quickly, without hesitation. Nikola tries to improve his footprint as much as possible [carbone]. By talking to him, we realize that he is thinking about a lot of things to put in place within his family. He also does a lot of work on the diet.
We had launched a communication campaign based on the 10 actions for a greener sport. To prove that every gesture counts. And among these 10 gestures there was the fact of going by bike to training with Nikola who cycled to the Coubertin room. This is something he does naturally. He regularly rides his bike for training. It’s not just a staging.
[Au sujet de son choix des sponsors, par éthique] Nikola is one of the few athletes who can choose their sponsors. This is an example, but it should be remembered that many cannot afford it. “