This is me: Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas
Every episode of our This is me… series is unique, as the stars of the game tell us their very personal life and handball stories in their own words. This episode, however, is extra special. Star goalkeeper of Barça and the Spain national team, Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas, shared his story with us just before his life underwent a major change, as his wife Itziar Llobet Coderch gave birth to their first child, Teo, last Wednesday.
THIS IS ME: Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas
How would things have been without them?
In the end, we will never know. What’s been done is done – and done in the best way possible. But sometimes I do look back and wonder for a split second: what would it have been without them?
My parents, Miguel and Maribel. My sister, Beatriz. My wife, Itziar.
Well, I will not lie and tell you that my parents were the instigators of my love for handball, because they were not. They did not know much about it, and they were not that much into sports, either.
But their help was so precious afterwards that I would, anyway, always be grateful for what they did.
It all started in school. One of my mates’ dad was a handball coach and he asked me once if I could come and try. I did, and even though my heart did wander towards tennis at some point, handball never truly left it.
No-one wanted to be the goalkeeper. After all, when you are young, you want to score, you want to run. But for me, it was OK. So, I went between the posts – and never left.
It became kind of obvious that I was not too bad at what I was doing. I was playing for the Spanish youth national team, having fun with my mates, and playing in Toledo, my hometown.
My colour blindness was not even a problem. This is not something shout from every rooftop, but more or less everyone I’ve played with, is aware of it.
I have trouble seeing colours properly. It sometimes bothers me at training, knowing who is playing with who. Otherwise, it has never been a problem. After all, I lived with that all my life.
But back to the point: In Toledo, I had everything I needed. And when you are 15, you don’t look too far ahead. When I was 15, the phone rang for the first time: Xavi Pascual, who was the head of the Barça academy back then.
He had seen me play, and he had seen something in me. He thought I could make more progress by coming to the Barça academy, and maybe turn professional.
Any teenager receiving such a call would probably climb up the walls, but I did not.
I thought I was too young to go, and I had everything I needed in Toledo. Why go to Barcelona when you can compete with the best in your hometown and sleep at your parents’ place every night?
But Xavi did not give up and called me again a year later.
I was not too keen on changing my answer from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes,’ but my parents stepped into the light. They understood that I had missed the Barça train once, that I was lucky it was stopping at my station again, and that I probably would not have a third chance.
So, they pushed me to go.
Now, I understand how hard it must have been for them to do it. To actually push your 16-year-old son to go play handball, on his own, 700 kilometres from his hometown – that must have taken some courage.
Now, we have always been a family that likes to be together. Even when I left, I had my parents on the phone every day, but never did I think of going back. It was a collective decision and, as soon as I started training, I felt like it was the right one.
While my parents rarely ever told me how hard it was for them to see me go, my sister Beatriz never fails to remind me that I abandoned her. She might say that jokingly, but I know it was hard for her to go from seeing me every day to only once every six weeks.
As soon as I joined Barça, I understood what this club meant. Training twice a day, sometimes with the professional team, it was completely another world for me. I understood that I had to go the extra mile. Everything was there for me to take, but I had to go and grab it.
I had always been looking up to David Barrufet. The guy was playing in the national team, had won everything with Barça. A proper legend, all in all. Next to him was Kasper Hvidt, another legend. And then I got to meet Tomas Svensson as well.
Who was I compared to them?
But it all came naturally. All of them were super nice to me, even though I was completely scared of them in the first place. When you are 16 years old, you might be a bit awkward when you meet your heroes. But they really welcomed me with open arms.
And then, four years later, was the day of my first official game with Barça. It was a home game against, of all teams, Toledo.
I felt really nervous as the Palau Blaugrana really is a special place. You know how many legends of the sport have played there, what they have won with Barça, and you can’t allow yourself to be 50 per cent. You have to give everything when you wear this jersey.
But it went alright in the end, I made a couple of saves and enjoyed my first game – the first of many to come.
Two years later, in 2011, I won my first EHF Champions League. It was a bit strange, to be honest.
I played a couple of games that season due to injuries, and even played the EHF FINAL4. I saved a penalty in the semi-final, but I did not feel like I was completely part of it.
It is a strange feeling to describe. For a very long time, winning the Champions League had been a dream, not a goal. Like something you would like to do, but that feels impossible to reach, as opposed to something you know you will be able to do one day.
The second time I won the Champions League, in 2015, was quite different, as I played a much bigger part in that success.
But the excitement was just as high all four times I lifted the trophy. Because you know how hard it is to win the EHF Champions League. Some players have tried 15 times, played the EHF FINAL4, but still never won it.
So, I realise how lucky and privileged I am, having won four and to still have time to win it once or twice again.
Because now that I am 32, I start looking back on my career. Let’s face it, I know it will not last longer than it has already lasted.
And well, the feeling of pride is the one that is predominant. To be able to last at the highest level, to win trophies every season, to play in the national team, is really not something I would have imagined when I was younger.
It really feels like everything came to me naturally. Playing for Barça a dream for some players? Well, it has been my home for 15 years, more or less.
I always made a point of staying myself for my whole career. I don’t like fighting, I don’t like confrontation, and it has never been my personality. Sure, I do it more on the court because I would do everything it takes to win a game.
But if I can do it in style, I will.
I guess some of my best friends in handball quite reflect that. Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson has always been super nice to everyone, despite having won almost everything. Eduardo Gurbindo, Danijel Saric, all these guys I have a really good relationship with.
A while I have been talking about looking back – now is the time to move forward. By the time you read those lines, I might have become a father for the first time.
[Editor’s note: son Teo was born on Wednesday 13 September.]
Now, I know that my life is going to change completely, but I don’t realise to what extent.
There too, I feel privileged. My wife has always been able to understand the wins and the losses, as she is a professional basketball player.
It is always easier to have someone who is in the business by your side, who understand your absence or your bad mood because they know exactly how it is.
And I know the question that you would ask: Would I push my child to move away from home to pursue its dream when it is 16?
I have no idea.
As long as my family is happy, I am happy.
Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas