This is me: Victor Tomás
A three-time EHF Champions League winner and a world champion with Spain, Victor Tomás had to call it quits after 18 seasons with Barça two years ago, at age 34, due to a heart problem. His No. 8 jersey has been retired by Barça after their recent Match of the Week against THW Kiel. In this episode of our This is me… series, Victor Tomás shares his very personal career story.
THIS IS ME: Victor Tomás
I cannot think of a sport more beautiful than handball. I cannot think of a city where I could live other than Barcelona or its surroundings. So, when I had the chance, the simple opportunity to play handball at Barça, it was a dream came true. It was literally the best choice I could ever have. And to be captain of a team that I adored since I was a little kid? Priceless.
But let me tell you how a little kid got to be the captain of a team that won everything – well, 69 trophies for me at Barça – and shared the court with some players that were his idols before becoming himself a role model for many in handball.
Everything started when I was only a little kid. My father, Carlos, was a former player and coach in handball and we used to go every time to the Palau Blaugrana to see Barça’s Dream Team playing there. The atmosphere was amazing. When I think about it, there are still goosebumps on my skin. It just modeled my childhood.
Many probably know my story, but I started playing handball since I was eight years old. First, I just exchanged some passes with my father. This is how it all started and it looks quite amazing when I take a look back to see how far I got. But what I always wanted, how I envisioned myself was like a player. I liked the atmosphere in the Palau, I liked the speed of the game, I liked how goals were scored. I dreamt about being on the same court with some of the legends.
Remember the number, OK? Eight. Just stay with me here, because it will get emotional.
So, there I was, since I was a little kid in Barça’s entourage, trying to make a career for myself. I never thought I was going to be a star, I never felt that I was going to write a bit of history myself. I was just focused on trying to improve my skills. But do you know what the main catch was?
I liked it. No, I loved it. This sport flowed through my veins, I loved it with all my life and maybe this is when I decided to be a handball player.
Sure, when you say Barça, you probably think of football, you probably think about that amazing team and the Camp Nou, the biggest stadium in Europe. I had many friends who played football, I tried it even a bit myself, but I was quite focused to become a handball player.
So back to handball. I remember I was pretty emotional when working so hard delivered a place at Barça. I made my debut in 2002, when I still was playing for the youth team and for the B team and from that moment on, I never looked back.
There were 18 outstanding years, 18 magnificent seasons, with ups and downs, with good and bad, but mostly good, to share the story straight. 69 trophies, countless wins and over 1,200 goals. Sounds good, right?
No, it was amazing. It was stupendous. It was otherworldly. It was an amazing feeling, a rush of adrenaline after great wins, huge teammates, great teams, something that is really impossible to describe.
All with the number 8 on my back. Yes, I have told you to remember it before, now I am going to do it again, because I will get back to it.
Do you have time for a secret?
You surely know I was a one-club man, something that is quite hard to find in the current landscape of handball. Players are in demand, especially if they are quite efficient and good right wings are always on the market.
I know I had some great seasons myself both for Barça and for Spain’s national team, but no team called me in my career. I would probably have said no, because at Barça, well, I had everything I needed.
I always got good contracts, my family was near, I was playing for the club of my dreams, we were winning, it was a match made in heaven. But now, I am thinking a bit… Did they know that I was not going to say “yes”, irrespective of the offer? Probably so, surely so.
But back to my story, because that was only a funny thing that crossed my mind.
I could probably share my entire story, but that would be something rather a book-like material, because it is huge. I will not bore you with all the details, with all the seasons, with everything we did at Barça, because it is really a long story. Hey, 18 seasons on the top of the world, right?
For me, probably the best season was 2014/15, when we had an outstanding team, with great players, a very good coach and everything flowed perfectly. It was the season where I won my third Champions League trophy and it was probably the most beautiful one. I have so many memories from it, but just lifting the trophy, as Barça’s captain, in Cologne, it is very, very hard to describe into words.
It was also with the number 8 on my back.
But every good story must have an ending, right? And you all probably love happy endings. However, my story, as excellent as it was in terms of wins and trophies, was cut short before I would have wanted. And, believe me, leaving the court not on your terms it is nerve wrecking for a player. Especially one like me, that has always loved handball and loved to be on the court at all times, irrespective of the opponent.
All handball players have to undergo a lot of medical tests. During a routine one, they discovered something was wrong with my heart. It meant that I had to either put my life on the line every time I played handball or retire.
It was clear that the second option was the correct one and I had to also think about my family and my children. If I had chosen otherwise, it could have impacted my life profoundly and I still think it was the right option.
But with the Covid-19 pandemic striking throughout all of the world, it also meant I could not have a farewell match and my career stopped short. After 18 years, I had to stop playing handball, I had to stop my routine, I had to watch handball as a spectator, rather than be an active player and help Barça.
From the captain of the most beautiful team in the world, to a simple fan in the stands of the Palau. And yes, it hit hard, it hit very, very hard, because I was not used to this situation, I had to get to grips to it and accept it. Which was difficult.
They say that a player craves the routine he has and when he retires, it is always difficult to comprehend everything that is happening. My heart condition is not life-threatening, therefore I can still spend time with my family, but I was not myself.
I had to see a psychologist and work everything out as soon as possible, especially with the pandemic causing lockdowns. Fortunately, I got off pretty easily, the therapy helped me a lot to understand that this was inevitable, and I could not change anything.
I still have a lovely family, I still work for Barça, I still am close to handball, albeit I am not a player anymore. Which sucks, because I loved it and I think I could have played for three-four years.
Imagine it yourself, feeling that you can still measure up with the best players in the world, that you can do anything you did before, but not playing the sport you love. It is heart-breaking at times, especially because I can still do physical activities.
The future is still ahead, though, but I cannot see myself being a coach, I think I am not cut for this, but I still love handball, I still work for Barça and I still am a role model and mentor for the Respect Your Talent programme for the EHF.
Oh, and remember I told you about the number 8 shirt? Yes, it has been three times already that I mentioned it. Well, Barça decided I was quite good for them and they retire the shirt in my honour, never being worn again by a Barça player in the future.
And let me tell you that makes me a bit emotional. Because it is my life’s work and I always wore that shirt proudly from the start of my career to the last game I ever represented the club I love.
Yes, I chose it because I started playing handball at the age of eight years old, a throwback to my early days in handball. And also because nobody at Barça was wearing it when I went to the first team.
If you saw me crying, that was not me. No, I am just kidding, it is a huge honour and it means that I did something for the club and I am leaving something behind. Having this ceremony in the Palau Blaugrana, basically where I grew up, just makes me quite emotional and reflecting both on my past and on my future. And a bit on what could have been.
But enough with the tears, albeit it was hard to stop them. This has been a wonderful adventure, something that I will never forget. And I hope that I brought you some good moments too.
Because this is what handball is all about: living in the moment.