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“We will have to play our best handball right away”

The coach of the France team evokes the Euro which begins this Thursday for his troops with a complicated confrontation against Croatia (8:30 p.m.).

Guillaume, is it an additional pressure to approach this Euro in the costume of reigning Olympic champions? The general public expects you to finish at least on the podium …
Guillaume Gille: Except it’s not that simple. It should be remembered that we are going to play the competition that is undoubtedly the most dense and the most difficult on the international level. The European continent is still the most represented in the last world and Olympic squares. This density can be seen from the qualifying tournaments to participate in this Euro. So we know the competition will be huge, with several teams in a position to win the tournament. And then it’s still sport, with its share of surprises and uncertainties. In the middle of all this, the France team will have to find a way and show a beautiful face during this fortnight. His record does not exempt him from the need to continue to perform well because our opponents will not offer us anything.

How do you get the mayonnaise to set in this multigenerational team? How do you get collective chemistry?
Within the staff, we are not cooks. It’s not like performing a recipe where you put a little bit of young, a pinch of old, you mix everything and put on low heat at start-up before speeding up the cooking so that the aromas are released. We have to find a balance, that requires work, experience in common. We must suffer together, overcome the difficulties that forge a group. Each time, it’s different. Even if this French team is strong in its past experiences, in particular that of last summer in Tokyo, in the current configuration it needs to build new links, new complementarities. It takes time, work and competitive matches.

That’s pretty much everything you didn’t have at your disposal during a very complicated preparation. How do you judge this one?
I admit that I do not compare the preparations too much. If there were signs during the preparation that allowed us to know what was going to happen next in the competition, we might as well tell you that we would have already identified them and that we would use them to better orient the work. But each time it’s different. The truth of the competition is not always written during preparation. From the first round, we will be in the thick of the matter and it is only then that we will see if our preparation has been useful and good, whatever the context and the difficulty.

What does Nikola Karabatic’s experience bring in such a context?
I’m sorry but I’m going to kick a few doors open. When we talk about Nikola, who has already been decked out with so many superlatives and who has won everything in his career, it is obvious that he can bring a lot. We are counting on him, that’s for sure. It is essential in the system and by its aura, it directs a lot the activity of the group on the ground. He regulates it, he brings his paw to many sequences and it is very interesting for the staff as for its partners to be able to benefit from this relay internally.

From a personal point of view, how does having been an Olympic champion as a coach change for you?
It doesn’t change much for me. It’s a new chapter to write for me as well as for the France team, with a very different context and a very renewed team. I approach this Euro with a lot of excitement. We have posed and rehearsed a lot of things and we will see how this group is able to deliver performance in very high level matches. I want the competition to start and the team to go to revealing. And at the same time, I still want to use every possible minute to tweak the final settings.

It’s crazy to think that the coloring of their team will be suspended from one or two negative tests

Guillaume Gille

What is your take on what awaits you at 1is turn, with Croatia starting this Thursday (8:30 p.m.), then Ukraine on Saturday (6 p.m.) and Serbia on Monday (8:30 p.m.)?
We will face three great teams, two of which – Croatia and Serbia – belong to the top European teams. We will have to play our best handball right away if we want to leave them behind.

Croatia has also had to deal with injuries and positive cases of Covid …
Yes, all this context creates a lot of uncertainties and there, it is difficult to know what will be the squad of Croatia with their positive cases (Luka Cindric and Domagoj Duvnjak). We can’t wait to hear their final roster to face us. But in the meantime, we have been forced to prepare different scenarios and imagine that Cindric and Duvnjak will be well on the field, while working the associations existing within the Croatian team without its two major players. But somewhere, it’s crazy to think that the coloring of their team will be suspended from one or two negative tests. Now, it will be the lot of all the teams on this Euro. And most importantly, it remains to focus on us again and again.

During the last Euro in 2020, the France team was eliminated from the 1is round and you were then the assistant coach. Do you see a possible failure this year again, despite the success of the last Games?
When you see the adversity at the Euro, you know that there is always breakage with big customers who fall by the wayside. The level between the teams is so close that the state of form is decisive. A player in a big day can change the fate of a match and when we see our opponents from the 1is turn, we know there is a risk of losing. But today, it is not in our reflection.


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