“Last year, at the last press conference in Poland ahead of the Championship in Qatar, I welcomed journalists in the Polish language. It brought us luck, that’s why I decided to do it again this year.”
With these words Poland coach Michael Biegler started his speech last Wednesday in Krakow. The native of Germany did it in Polish indeed, reading the lines from paper.
He was focusing on the pronunciation in such an endearing way that it immediately brought smiles to the faces of the journalists’ and players’. When he finished he was awarded with a round of applause.
“I’m not the kind of guy who shines like the sun to everyone"
It’s astonishing how he has morphed over recent years. He smiles more often, talks more willingly, jokes and patiently answers even the most niggling questions from journalists.
“It’s normal that at the beginning people treat each other with a distance. First of all, you need to build trust – it doesn’t appear in one day,” explains the coach.
“I’m not the kind of guy who shines like the sun to everyone. I stay aside and observe. You know, a rapport between two people doesn’t come just like that after they sit next to each other. And I’ve been laughing all the time, but only after funny questions,” he smiles heartily.
I remember when I saw Biegler for the first time. It was in Spain during the World Championship 2013, at one of the Polish national team press conferences.
I was a bit scared of him as his stony face didn’t invite chit-chat. He was closed, silent and stood alone in a big room full of people. Only the most courageous journalists were trying to make interviews with him.
Me? No! I was a chicken-hearted kid then! My German wasn’t perfect and the coach wasn’t enthusiastic about talking in English. He intrigued me however, and since that moment I’ve been trying to figure him out.
Training and translation
Whenever it was possible, I attended trainings of the Polish national team, where Biegler spoke a lot of German. The boys who hadn’t played in the Bundesliga didn’t understand him at all – that’s why it was necessary to use the assistant coach Jacek Bedzikowski and the German-speaking players as translators. It interfered with the fluency of trainings of course, but everyone was trying to do their best anyway.
Now he starts the trainings with Polish “Zaczynamy” (“Let’s start” in English), he uses basic expressions such as “Bardzo dobrze” or “Dziekuje” (“very good” and “thank you”), and he speaks a lot in English with the players that don’t understand German.
But then, in Spain, our team lost right after the group phase against Hungary in a very ugly way. The score was 27:19 and the game was an example of a total disaster. The boys were trying everything, but they looked like poor David against great Goliath.
That time Goliath was better.
The result didn’t reflect well on the coach and he needed to face very difficult questions from the journalists.
To be clear, I don’t want to judge his skills, I don’t want to judge his tactical programme – there are lots more adequate people to do it. I just think we often forget that players and coaches are normal people like each of us.
They have their better and worse moments, they have their own problems, and they have the right to make mistakes. The only difference is that it is only us and our closest friends that know about our failures, and the athletes are followed by thousands of people.
A new era for the national team
Bogdan Wenta is a living legend in Polish handball. He built a team from scratch and made it a solid brand, but it’s also true that in his era the national team was kind of an exclusive world.
It was very difficult for the new players to make the first steps to represent the national team. Maybe that’s why after a big boom there was a notable decline.
Michael Biegler opened the structure up a bit and that’s why we can now follow players like Michal Szyba, Michal Daszek or Przemyslaw Krajewski and look forward to the appearances of brothers Gebala and Maciej Majdzinski. Biegler however, doesn’t want to call these boys his discovery.
“Lots of my colleagues say: ‘I discovered him, I worked this out,’ etc. You will not hear something like this from me,” he says.
“I’m very happy that young players develop so much. We all are. They are the future of this team and the most important for me is that we could have worked with them from the very beginning of my story with this team.”
"Please, just support the team"
On Wednesday Biegler called on the journalists, fans and the whole society to be united with the Poland team:
“Please, just support the team. And me? I’m an old man and I don’t have problems with you anymore,” he laughed.
“I always take responsibility on my own shoulders. I try to fulfil the expectations as well as I can. Sometimes it works better, sometimes worse. I hope that this time it will be better!”
And that’s true. The coach is always the one who takes the biggest beating. Probably correctly as he makes tactical decisions, he takes care of the squad individually, and the atmosphere in the team.
We, the observers, will never know what the situation in the team is. We can just watch, sniff around for clues and draw our own conclusions.
I’m very happy to see that my team is so focused on the goal that stands ahead of them. The boys will go through fire and water for each other. They will fight till the end, leaving their hearts and souls on the floor, in order to make the nation proud of them. And I’m sure that your teams think the same.
So support your teams, accept their squads – their strong and weak points. No matter, who will wear a jersey with your national emblem, they will do their best to win each next game, each next point, each next action.
Take your seats in the halls, in the fan zones all over the Europe or in front of the TV and enjoy the greatest sports event this winter. Feel the emotions with your team!
Photo: Grzegorz Trzpil