Bob Hanning is one of the architects of the last great success of the German national handball team: In 2016, the team in Poland, with the national coach Dagur Sigurdsson installed by DHB Vice President Hanning, surprisingly became European champion. But after the Olympic bronze in the same year, things get tough in sport: only at the home World Cup in 2019 can you reach a semi-final again. The defeat against Norway is still the last knockout game of the DHB selection at a European Championship or World Cup. Now the team is playing in Poland again and Hanning, who left his post at his own request in 2021, sees an exciting development. Also because the memory of 2016 is still present in the team.
ntv.de: Bob Hanning, before the start of the World Cup you issued the somewhat provocative slogan: “Handball can now overshadow football”. They alluded to the supposed German football disenchantment that prevailed after the December days in Qatar. Is German handball taking advantage of the chance it always gets in January when football is on hold?
Bob Hanning: First of all, it was never about bashing football for me. It’s important to me that we meet the zeitgeist with our sport. And I do think that what the guys have brought to the record so far is exactly what we had hoped for: authentic, honest, a lot of passion, a lot of lifeblood. Without overestimating the previous opponents, I’m really very satisfied with the performance of the German team so far.
The German team won all of their four games, some of them quite clearly. The quarterfinals are within reach. What did you particularly like about the first four games?
I like the vibe. That obviously young people met to really achieve something together. They have developed a special feeling for each other. It’s not that important at the moment whether we’re consistently good in defense or whether that’s enough against the Netherlands.
Is it enough against the Netherlands? A win on Saturday (8.30 p.m. / ZDF and in the live ticker on ntv.de) would mean entry into the quarter-finals.
Yes, I am absolutely convinced of that. Also because we have always found a lot of good solutions in attack.
A particularly large number of the good solutions are initiated by Juri Knorr, who has been playing a very strong tournament so far. Does it already emerge against the previous opponents, who all fell into the category “compulsory task” with the exception of Serbia, that Knorr is the difference player in the center backcourt that he has been longing for for many years?
I’m not a fan of erecting monuments only to see them topple over later. He’s doing great so far, but you have to keep giving him the development time. It’s true, we haven’t had a classic, world-class playmaker since Markus Baur, who led Germany to the 2007 World Cup. At 22, Juri is certainly an above-average player, but I deliberately don’t want to be carried away by making a big leap.
The dramaturgy of the tournament is painted for the DHB team, you can slowly grow with the tasks, the chunks are still to come: Are there any indications that suggest how this team will work in the all-or-nothing situations that are now imminent?
Rarely have you had such a favorable draw, that’s true. With the exception of Serbia, there wasn’t a big chunk of it, the Netherlands must also be feasible. The team can still grow within this tournament. But what is very important to say: she solved every task excellently. It’s almost impossible to do better. As a result, it was always possible to dose deployment times early and save energy. That makes me very confident.
National coach Alfred Gislason said after the thrashing of Argentina (39:19) that a run like the one we are currently experiencing makes a lot of things easier. Based on your long experience as a coach, can you specify what he meant by that?
You build success. And success brings security. You can see that what you have worked for is working. And success tastes sweet, you just don’t want to get the taste out of your mouth. Due to the clear successes, functioning systems could be developed without exhausting oneself completely. Saving energy is an important factor in a long, tightly scheduled tournament. The team is on the right track. Hopefully we’ll see if she makes the leap in development in the next two games to win a possible quarter-final against big teams like Spain or France.
With Kai Häfner, Jannik Kohlbacher, Rune Dahmke, Simon Ernst and Andreas Wolff, there are five players who surprisingly became European champions in Poland in 2016. Can the memory of success also be a success factor?
Certainly. The knowledge that you’ve already achieved something great here does something to you over the course of the tournament, at least to the players who were there at the time. I remember having coffee with Andi Wolff before the 2016 final. One of my greatest experiences. Andi was so focused, so clear, so confident.
Germany won 24:17 against the big favorites Spain, Wolff held incredibly.
It was already clear as day in the early afternoon that he would produce this fantastic performance against the Spaniards in the evening. The final was already decided while drinking coffee. Those who were there will surely remember it. And everyone else would do well to develop this feeling as well. And I think they do too. Nevertheless, it is of course a long way to achieve something extraordinary. And in 2016, it has to be said, we had that little bit of luck, of course.
The German team had previously beaten Sweden and Russia by one goal in the preliminary and main rounds, and Denmark by two goals in the decisive main round match. In the semifinals there was a victory after extra time after Rune Dahmke was able to equalize seconds before the end of regulation time. When it came down to it, the DHB team was incredibly efficient and had strong nerves in that tournament. This quality was then lost, and many will not forget the 2020 European Championship main round match against Croatia.
Yes, incredibly bitter.
For a long time, the German team played like they were unleashed, leading at times by five goals, progression was within reach. In the end you lost 24:25. Can’t such negative experiences find their way into the DNA of a team?
no The team has already gone through several upheavals, there is a new flow. I see the team as carefree as it was in 2016, even if there are some experienced players. But again: In order to be able to think about things like back then, we’re still a long way from that.
People have been very reluctant to set goals publicly. Was that correct and what do the internal goals really look like?
I’m more of a friend of formulating big goals. But I understand the association 100 percent that they didn’t want to burden this team with the pressure of big goals. As DHB President, Andreas Michelmann said that the quarterfinals are mandatory. As President of the world’s largest handball association, you are not allowed to say anything else. Germany always has to play for medals in the long run. In the current situation, after difficult years in which building this team was incredibly complicated, the way they did it is exactly right.
It’s an ongoing topic in German handball, which amazes the European competition and which annoys the national coach: Before every tournament, important players cancel their participation for various reasons. The long-standing defense chief Hendrik Pekeler is on hiatus, Fabian Wiede, European champion 2016, is getting married and undergoing jaw surgery. Above all, Wiede’s cancellation was openly questioned, including from the team. While Gislason said he would keep the door open for those players too, is there really a way back into the forming squad despite the players’ tremendous qualities?
I think this discussion is not appropriate. We’re in the middle of a big tournament and we still have a lot to achieve. An incredibly important process for German handball is also taking place right now. The focus has to be exclusively on the players who are there. Everything else will be clarified after the World Cup, also and especially with a view to the European Championship at home next year. But of course one thing is clear: the national coach will of course only change something if he thinks it is necessary. But the team doesn’t give any reason for that at the moment.
When will this World Cup be a success for the German team, also with a view to the next year’s home European Championships, which are important for the association in terms of sport and economy?
A measurable and noticeable sense of optimism is emerging again, which is already a success. In terms of sport, the quarter-finals is the minimum goal, that’s a must. And that is clear to everyone. We’re on the right track at this World Cup and I’m not ready at the moment to think about what comes after that.
World champion Christian Schwarzer, historically not a friend of yours, made a controversial statement in the media last week: According to Schwarzer, female referees should referee women’s games. But there was a strong headwind, also from the German national players. Do such incidents help handball in public perception?
You know, during my time at DHB, I often had to deal with things that Christian said. Thank God I don’t have to do that anymore and I won’t do it again.
You denounced how the DFB presented itself at the World Cup, in terms of sport and public image. Heretical to ask: Doesn’t handball have it much easier than football because it simply lacks the drop height?
A very clear yes! Once again: I’m a big football fan, including the national team. But I don’t like it when association PR is put above sporting matters. Those responsible in Qatar simply did not act well in difficult times. The big ball sports – I see us as a unit – they didn’t do them any favors.
After Egypt 2021, we are currently experiencing the second World Cup with 32 teams. Do you think the increase has worked?
One can argue about that. This is debatable for logistical reasons alone, because hardly any country would be able to organize a handball world championship on its own today. You can also see from the quality of individual teams that their participation is difficult to justify from a sporting point of view. The other side of the coin is that you have to develop the sport. If you want to be safe and secure in the Olympics in the long term, handball must not remain a purely European affair forever. That’s one of the reasons why I’m incredibly happy about the success of the Egyptians, who won their preliminary round group and are now about to reach the quarter-finals. That’s good for handball.
Till Erdenberger spoke to Bob Hanning