Roland Mikler: Let the young players be frustrated that an old man is the goalkeeper behind them!
For almost two decades, one of the key players of the Hungarian men's handball national team has been the captain, Roland Mikler, the 37-year-old goalkeeper of Pick Szeged, whose 13th international competition will be the European Men's Handball Championship, which starts this Thursday.
|Roland Mikler thinks team unity can be the key to a good performance (Photo: Csaba Dömötör)|
– Although the victory does not need to be explained, the European Championship dress rehearsal did not go as planned. Why?
– We started the preparation match against Bahrain with everyone waiting for each other: "the defense will solve it, and then Roli will solve it in the goal," we thought, and that is unfortunate – said Roland Mikler, goalkeeper of the men's handball team. – By the time we came to our senses, we were already in the second half. By then, however, we had played much more focused. We had too much respect for the opponent at the beginning, and maybe we didn't get as excited about the start as we should have.
– And was it really the idea that Roli would solve it?
– Yes, because that's my job, although I wouldn't be able to do it without the help of the defense. If the ones in front of me are passive and let the attackers close, even though they are hundred and seventy or eighty centimeters, like the Bahrainis, I can't do anything about their shots. On Saturday, they kept aiming close to my head, and I couldn't have jumped away from them even if I wanted to. In fact, I'm not always going to solve everything, everyone can see that we have to work together as a team because that's how can be good.
– Does this mean that the success of the national team depends not (only) on the form of Mikler, Máté Lékai, and Bence Bánhidi?
– Our joint journey started with Máté not being able to participate at the European Championship two years ago due to injury, so the players who had fewer opportunities were in the focus, who solved the control position well. They're going to get a chance now as well because the national team is not made of these people only, and that's how it should be.
– You'll wear the national team jersey for the 219th time when playing against the Netherlands. Do you remember your debut?
– Of course, though I didn't experience much success in November 2004 when we lost to the French by three goals. We were sitting in the stands with the boys before the kick-off and I was really excited I could play.
– It is not strange that Dominik Máthé, for example, was only five years old when Roland Mikler represented Hungary in an international match?
– Yes, I start feeling my age now and the fact that I represent permanence in this national team, I am like an old piece of furniture here. Jokingly, I'd say let the young players be frustrated that an old man is the goalkeeper behind them! No, seriously: I don't care how old I am, and besides, everyone on this team respects the other, we can work well together.
– I'm not the nervous type, but this is new to me as well. I've never been a part of a world adult competition in Hungary, especially in an arena of 20,000 spectators. Anyway, I'm through a good rehearsal. I remember at the Pick Aréna inauguration, when we ran onto the course against Kiel, I looked around and I saw everyone having a good time. Then I learned there's hardly any way to lose here. We're not machines, neither am I, and at 37, I still have emotions. We'll be probably going through emotions, but as soon as they blow the whistle, we're just going to focus on our job.
– Can the Dutch surprise us?
– I'm sure they want to defeat us, the hosts. They want to make sure that not everything revolves around us. We may not be talking about a top team, but they're going to fight for 60 minutes with nothing to lose. Many of them are in the Bundesliga, and their center back, Luc Steins, plays handball for PSG, one of the best clubs in the world. They're fast, they're dangerous, and they're catching up with the elite at a tremendous pace – I'm sure we'll have a hard time with them.
– Portugal has been hampered by injuries and illnesses over the past month, and there are many new faces in its squad. Are you ready for that?
– Not just for that, but everything. The Portuguese have a system that they've been playing for a long time. We see and know that they are brutally good in seven against six. For now, however, we are dealing with the Netherlands.
– What do you think of your teammate in Szeged, center back Miguel Martins of Portugal?
– Despite his young age, I consider him a dominant, bold player who, if trusted, can do anything on the court. He wants to prove himself against us, and he said he wants to carry his national team on his back.
– You also know former Veszprém player Aron Pálmarsson well, don't you?
– It's hard to put the Icelanders anywhere, I'm a little in the dark about them. If Aron gets momentum, it's not easy to stop him, but we have to be careful because his good performance affects the other players, too.
– On the European Federation's website, we read that the goal is to get into the eight. Is that realistic?
– In the last world competitions, we have always shown our best face, we have performed well, perhaps that is why we are rightly expected to finish in the top eight. But we don't deal with that within the team, and that's not our job to do so. We focus on our group opponents because if we don't defeat them, we don't make it to the semi-finals. I don't want to avoid the question, yes, we want to take the maximum of two points out of the first round so that the goals can be discussed at all later.
– How superstitious is the oldest, most experienced member of the Hungarian national team?
– I also have my rituals before every match, and I need them to build myself up for the opening whistle and get into the game.
– Are you preparing a motivational speech as the team captain?
– Before the matches, there is usually something that I can add to the preparations, sometimes in a form of a high five, a hug, or other times it's grabbing the jerseys. István Gulyás, Chema Rodríguez and László Nagy – especially Laci – are very good motivators, and they tell us everything. I don't plan on doing a long monologue because 1) there's no time, and 2) there's no need.
– As a DJ, have you already put together a music playlist?
– One thing's for sure: there will be a dynamic medley both in the dressing room and during warm-up.
– Do you expect defending the goal most of the time?
– Yes, that is the only way. However, as I said earlier, this European Championship cannot be done with the same players. I saw Marci Székely against Bahrain, he's in good form and has been playing a lot, he's got no problem with confidence, he can jump in at any time and he probably will.
– Unavoidable question: is the coronavirus pandemic a topic in the dressing room?
– Yes, it is, because we are aware that if someone gets infected and carries the disease into the dressing room, it causes a lot of damage. Before the European Championship, we minimized contact, stayed at the hotel on resting days, went nowhere, and kept in touch with family members on the phone. It's hard for all parents, for me as well. Maybe I can look at my wife and kids during a game and send them kisses from the court. It's strange, but we're lucky because our loved ones, friends, acquaintances can be at the games and cheer for us on the spot.