This is me: Thierry Omeyer
He might have retired three years ago, but Thierry Omeyer’s legacy remains forever. The French goalkeeper has been one of the best known faces of the EHF Champions League for about two decades, winning the trophy four times – with Montpellier HB and THW Kiel – and earning a string of other titles and awards. No one better than Omeyer himself to talk us through his illustrious career in the latest episode of our This is me… series.
This is me: Thierry Omeyer
The grail. The EHF Champions League has always been my grail.
Well, I say it always, but that is not exactly correct. Back in my young days, when I started handball, I was not thinking that far. I chose handball, but that was the only road I could go down. My father was playing, my mother was playing, so it was no surprise I started going to the hall when I was about nine.
It was almost like a habit. Everyone in the house, mum, dad and my brothers, knew that weekends meant handball.
I started playing at the same time as my brother Christian did. Christian is my twin brother and, when we were young, we did everything together. Table tennis, handball, all kind of sports were a reason for us to be competitive, to battle for the top spot inside the family.
For sure, back then, we did not think about anything else than just the one of us being the best out of the two. But looking back, those were probably the first moments when I pushed myself all the way to be the best.
Handball-wise, things started to get serious in of my teenage years. I started playing handball at a professional level in 1994, with the A team of Sélestat. And I know how one could feel, playing on the big field with the big boys, aged only 18. But I was not scared, I was not impressed. I just wanted to do the best I could, to push myself to the limit.
And everything came almost naturally. A lot of work, for sure, was put into it. First international game with France at 22, then the move to Montpellier the following year.
The EHF Champions League was one of the reasons for me to make that move. I wanted to play against the best players in the world, I wanted to secure my spot in the national team, and playing the Champions League every season felt like the best way to do it.
It was my choice, so leaving my parents and my brothers was not that hard. I knew, then, I was on the quest for the grail.
2000 was my first encounter, so to say, with the EHF Champions League. And I do remember every detail, even though it is 22 years ago. We played against Zaporozhye in the qualifying round, and then the first group phase game was against FC Barcelona.
Now, those were guys that I had watched on TV. The turning of the century was the moment when Champions League began being broadcasted on television. And I could see guys like Mirko Bašić, Tomas Svensson, Mats Olsson or Andrey Lavrov sometimes. Those were guys that I looked up to.
And so came the Barcelona game. A team that had just won the EHF Champions League five times in a row. But just like in my young days, I tried to do my best. I entered the court around minute 20, made some 15 saves, the team got the draw. Job done.
But then.. Tomas Svensson came after the game to congratulate me, saying that I had a great game.
Now, that was something. Playing the same competition as these players was something I was proud of but having Tomas Svensson crossing the court to shake my hand after a game, well that was really nice.
It took Montpellier four years to lift the trophy. And just like the four times I won the EHF Champions League, the pattern was pure craziness.
We lost by eight in Pamplona in the first leg of the final. The return leg promised to be wild. It was completely nuts. Like, proper nuts. Bougnol, the arena Montpellier were playing in, was on fire. That night, everybody had the perfect game, and we won by 12. We had 15,000 people on the city’s main square watching the game and then welcoming us with the trophy the next day.
Mayhem. Like, we celebrated all night, pure craziness. Those are memories that will remain forever.
Two years later, it was time to move somewhere else. I got a call from Kiel, a club that wanted me to help them finally win their first EHF Champions League. Bingo, off we go. And it happened quickly, actually, as 10 months later, THW was on top of Europe.
The final itself was also something special.
First, we were playing against Flensburg, a proper derby for the people in Kiel. We drew in the first leg away, and you could feel the anticipation in the Ostsee Halle before the game.
I have a small insight for you. A few weeks before the game, Stefan Lövgren injured himself. That was clear, he could not play the final. So, we did things without him in the first game. But before the second, Noka Serdarusic had the idea to put him on the squad list. It was agreed that he would not play, just be there because he was such a character. He had a presence that could only bring us some positive.
And then, game day, I went out on the court, starting to warm up. A massive cheer comes up from the stands. I turn around, and Stefan is running on the court. He did not play one second, but I’m sure his presence gave everyone on our side a few more percent of focus.
While this two-game format is over, I can honestly say that I was lucky to have played it. I have no preference on whether this or the EHF FINAL4 is best. In terms of media coverage or as event for the fans, the EHF FINAL4 is unmatchable. But I saw so many, many crazy things happen during final return games that I can say that I loved it, too.
I won three EHF Champions League titles with Kiel, and each had a different taste. But each time was as exciting.
The first one was amazing because the club had been waiting for it so long, it felt like a relief. On a personal level, it proved that I had made the right choice to move to Germany.
The second one, in 2010, was at the first ever EHF FINAL4. We were behind six goals against Barça in the final, and still managed to do it, with so many THW fans in the Lanxess Arena supporting us.
The third one, in 2012, was at the end of a perfect season, when we had won every game in the Bundesliga.
These finals, these important games, I lived for them. There are two questions that people often ask me.
The first one: how did you maintain such a motivation after winning so many titles? I think I have always been looking ahead, and not looking back. At the moment, all the medals are in a box at home, and not even on a shelf. Even now, I’m not looking at what I did, but only at what is coming next.
The second one: do you have any regrets? Well, no. I won four EHF Champions League trophies, many more medals with my clubs, I was twice an Olympic champion. So maybe, yes, I could say, well, this one, or this one, would have been nice to win. But losses, they helped me build the future successes.
Yes, I would have liked to win the EHF Champions League with Paris in 2017. But then, for five seconds, one shot, things did not work out. That is not a regret.
Because I am at peace with my career. I achieved things I did not even think of when I was a kid. I ended my career when I wanted to, even though I’m sure I could have kept on for one or two more seasons.
My kids, they wanted me to keep on playing. But I knew it was the time to say stop. I was happy that they could see me play, my daughter saw me almost win every one of my titles, my son saw some as well, but it was time for me to come home.
The ceremony when I said goodbye at the end of my last game, with my wife, my boy and my girl around me, that will stay with me forever.
Because I can only imagine how enduring it was, for them, to see me go every three days to pursue my dream. And I know that without them supporting me, things might not have turned out this way. There was nothing better than to share the titles with my kids and my wife.
So, they would probably come first in my “thank you” list when it comes to what my career has been.
In my grail quest, they were my everyday companions.