Rémi Desbonnet: From flag waver to potential champion

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EHF / Kevin Domas

Sometimes, life goes down roads you would not have expected. When he was only 11 years old, Rémi Desbonnet was already playing for the club of Montpellier, even then as a goalkeeper. And he had the chance to be one of the flag holders, entering with the players when the club played its first Champions League final against Portland San Antonio, back in 2003.

“You can actually see some footage of myself when you watch Michaël Guigou score his iconic goal behind the back. There is a kid in a yellow goalkeeper outfit behind the goal, celebrating the goal by jumping up and down. Well, that’s me” smiles the now 31-year-old.

This memory followed Desbonnet for a long time, and when he came back to Montpellier last summer, after leaving the club in 2013 to play for Nîmes for nine seasons, he had the nice surprise of reliving those memories. “On the first day of the summer preparation, coach Patrice Canayer played us a tape showing the past successes of the club. He wanted us, especially the newcomers, to understand how historic a club Montpellier is” says Desbonnet. “And the bit with the Guigou goal came, and I whispered to Valentin Porte next to me, 'See? That’s me there, jumping up and down.'”

If the memory prompts laughter now, it also puts a lot of pressure on players like Rémi Desbonnet, who has been an MHB player at heart for his whole professional career. Sure, the French national player left for nine years, but it was somehow written that the circle would come full at some point or another.

Now that he is back in Montpellier, Rémi Desbonnet has some huge boots to fill. “That’s one of the things that I had to cope with when I came back, the fact that I am now on the court, being one of the people that I looked up at when I was 11. You can feel the weight of history in this club, and it might take a little while to deal with it.”

The outsiders might have thought that Desbonnet took a bit of time to adjust, but judging by his performances in the European League quarter-finals against Sporting, it seems like the learning phase is now well behind him. In both legs, the French goalkeeper was the one who kept MHB afloat during rough times.

And even though he did not show it, there were a lot of thoughts going on inside his head, especially during the return game. “There were twenty of my old friends in the stands, and at some point I looked towards them and told myself to enjoy the moment. Because, you don’t know when these are going to come back around” explains Desbonnet, who will be playing his first ever European competition semi-final at the EHF Finals.

At the event, Montpellier Handball will have to face Füchse Berlin in the semi-final. If the fox rivalry between the Blue Fox, Montpellier’s mascot, and Fuchsi, Berlin’s, should make everyone in the arena smile, the battle on the court promises to be a fierce one. “It might sound corny, but if you want to win a trophy, you have to beat the best teams. So playing Berlin is OK, especially since I had a pretty good history against them when I was in Nîmes” says Desbonnet.

Does he expect to score a goal like he did in the Champions League ten years ago against HSV Hamburg? Probably not, but goal or not, the MHB goalkeeper would be very happy to put a first European trophy on his shelf. “In a way, playing those finals is a bit of an accomplishment, because they are my first ones. But I’m not happy with just being there, I want more. Playing for Montpellier is not about showing a good face, it’s about winning trophies. And these days, this is the only thing I care about.”

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