Jicha: “Barça and Kiel are both in my heart”

EHF / Björn Pazen

THW Kiel are back on the big stage. The four-time EHF Champions League winners have made it to the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne again after missing the 2021 edition. On Saturday (18:00 CEST, live on EHFTV), the German record champions face defending champions and record winners Barça in the semi-final.

THW coach Filip Jicha knows both sides since he finished his outstanding career as a player at Barça in 2017. Before that, he was part of the golden THW generation for eight years, winning the EHF Champions League twice, in 2010 and 2012.

After his stint at Barcelona, Jicha (40) returned to Kiel, first as assistant of Alfred Gislason, then taking over as head coach when the successful Icelander, who won 20 trophies with Kiel, stepped down in 2019.

Returning to LANXESS arena sends shivers down his spine.

“It is always something incredible to qualify for Cologne. The older I get, the more I see how hard it is to go all the way to the EHF FINAL4, especially for a German club,” Jicha says. “And in the future, it will not be easier for a Bundesliga club. Other teams can fully focus on the EHF Champions League for the whole season, while we have a long and tough domestic season to play. Therefore, it is an award and a reward for us to be part of this event.”

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In December 2020, he steered THW Kiel to their fourth EHF Champions League title, becoming the first person in handball to win the trophy as a player and a coach at the season-ending event in Cologne.

“This is an incredible story, I still have not realised it yet. It is still a dream, which came true for me and I still cannot explain my feelings when I look back on my three trophies,” Jicha says.

“To be a coach and to support and to teach my players means such a huge fun for me. And for this year, I am so focussed on making the impossible possible, as we are definitely not the favourites. It is my big dream to be in the final on Sunday.”

But before dreaming of Sunday, Kiel will duel with Barça – which brings back great memories for Jicha.

“To face Barça is something very special for me. I carry Kiel and Barça in my heart, those were the clubs where I had the biggest successes, those are the two most successful clubs in the world, and I am so grateful that I had the chance to play for both. Still, I am a fan of Barça, but Kiel is my second home and my club.”

20220615 CLM Jicha Kiel Quote
To be a coach and to support and to teach my players means such a huge fun for me. And for this year, I am so focussed on making the impossible possible, as we are definitely not the favourites. It is my big dream to be in the final on Sunday.
Filip Jicha
THW Kiel head coach

But the situation for Jicha and his team is not easy this year, with two key players out injured: Hendrik Pekeler and Sander Sagosen.

“We do not complain or moan. We will prepare as well as we can, and then we will see. I hope that I have some good ideas how to beat Barça, how we can manage this huge task with the 10, 11 players who are available.”

Jicha counts on the team’s strength, not on an individual player to be in the spotlight.

“Everyone is important and has to carry the responsibility, especially as Pekeler and Sagosen are missing. Domagoj Duvnjak, Nikola Bilyk, Miha Zarabec or right backs Steffen Weinhold and Harald Reinkind can decide matches in attack, so we should and will not focus only on one player.”

When Kiel was paired with Barça at the semi-final draw, Jicha was neither shocked nor disappointed.

“Kielce and Veszprém are two strong clubs, too. So, I hope we can repeat the fairy tale of beating Barça in the 2020 final. I know that we need to give 110%, have to show our best performance of the season to have a chance to win both matches. And even your best performance of the season might not be enough against all three teams.”

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Jicha’s feat of having won the EHF Champions League as a player applies to the three other head coaches at the EHF FINAL4 2022, as well: Kielce’s Talant Dujshebaev, Barça’s Carlo Ortega, and Veszprém’s Momir Ilic.

“It is the circle of life that many former top players are now top coaches of top clubs in the EHF Champions League. Therefore, this is no surprise to me,” Jicha says.

“But among us four, one stands out: Talant Dujshebaev. He is the most experienced and successful coach. Though I never had the chance to play in his team, I have such a huge respect for his work, his success, and his experience.”

The last time Kiel played at the EHF FINAL4 – and won it – the stands were empty as fans were not allowed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now I am looking forward to full stands with fans of all four teams,” Jicha says. “And the great support of the famous ‘white wall’ of THW spectators.”

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