A monument of French sport bowed out on June 5. At 40, including 23 from an exceptional career, handball player Michaël Guigou retired on a last match with Nîmes against Cesson-Rennes.
The left winger, who can also play as a centre-half, has won everything in his career. Three gold medals (and one silver) at the Olympic Games, four world champion titles (and two bronze medals), three European champions (and a bronze medal) with the France team. Two Champions Leagues, 10 French champion titles, 11 French cups, 10 League Cups and 3 Champions Trophies with Montpellier, where he was voted best left winger in the championship 11 times.
But Michaël Guigou is not just a prize list. He is also a player with a rare mentality, who favored both sporting and personal aspects to remain faithful to Montpellier for twenty years, despite the sirens of much wealthier European clubs. And when the MHB had to rebuild after the 2012 betting affair, it did so around a player above suspicion.
On June 5, how did you feel about your last match?
A lot of emotions. It was strong in front of all my family, my loved ones. About a hundred people from Aptés (his hometown) came to see me. My daughter did a little choreography with dancers before the game. Very many children made a passage to me before arriving on the ground. It was great to close like that. I took the time to enjoy this last game, family, friends.
Two weeks later, does it seem like a lack?
I posted a little goodbye message on social networks symbolically, when it’s not really my universe. But it is announced, it is recorded, it helps to cross the course. I thanked the people who came to see me and those who couldn’t. But I’m pretty calm about the after. I will immediately leave for another project. I’m not going to have time for this slack that can happen when you end your playing career.
You have achieved many titles in your career. In particular two Champions Leagues, won 15 years apart. The craziest sacred, is it the first or the last?
The first, without a doubt. It’s amazing because it happened so fast. With Nicholas [Karabatic]we quickly tasted the biggest title possible in a club at 19 and 21, with, what is more, a very important role [en finale retour contre Pampelune, il inscrit 11 des 31 buts du MHB]. Playing with so many world champions around you, Martini, Omeyer, Puigségur, Dinart, Golic, Burdet, Greg Anquetil, it’s a crazy thing that happened very quickly.
What makes you most proud?
Accounting, I managed to falsify a very important track record. Whether in club or national team. But is that what sums me up completely? Yes and no. I didn’t give my all in my career just for that. I gave it my all to share with my teammates, to have fun, to make the most of the teams in which I was, whether in Montpellier or in the France team.
What images do you keep from these 23 years?
Titles, meetings, testimonials. The way people celebrated me at the end. When I had to leave Montpellier in 2019 and its supporters, the Blue Fox, going to Nîmes in a cauldron like Parnasse helped me make my decision. This relationship with the public is very important. And that’s why I wanted to do one more year. I didn’t want to dwell on the Covid-19 and these empty rooms. And then I am very proud to have stayed with my family, to have succeeded in this dual professional and family life. It’s not easy in high-level sport where you often have to move. I am very happy to have succeeded in this course.
How did you find this balance without the regret of having been sought out for other sporting challenges?
Because every night you come home and you find your wife and your daughter. And then when you want, you see your friends, when you want, you see your family. It’s a luxury that not everyone has. If they want to come and see, you’re not far away. The answer, you have it every night, so it’s easy to feel.
Was it an essential balance in your eyes?
I don’t know if we can go that far, I would certainly have been very happy elsewhere. The fact that I stay so long in Montpellier is perhaps due to the fact that I was, at the same time, in an exceptional team with the France team. And that I won the Champions League in 2003. I was not looking to win it absolutely. I was lucky not to have to chase titles. I don’t regret today, because I had a very good career and I’m very motivated for the future.
You are going to join the Usam Nîmes project. What will your role be?
I will be advisor to the president, ambassador of the club and the relay of the professional sector and the new coach with training for maximum development. I will have a specific coaching role for young nuggets, those who will ask to decelerate a potential future professional player to support them from a technical, tactical and mental point of view.
Isn’t this specific work being developed today in France?
It seems to me that it is missing in the French hand. It is already done in basketball or rugby with the skill coaches. An assistant coach can take on this specific job, but it takes time. As I will intervene in addition to the youth staff, it is a role that seems important to me to optimize things. I wanted to do this for a while. Nîmes is already a good training club, but we want to grow further and I am convinced that it will help us achieve this.
You are one of the most successful French handball players. How do you view the evolution of your sport?
There has been a real tactical evolution. With rules that have changed like the game of seven against six outfielders. In my eyes, a hell of a shitty rule, a hell of an evolution. Numerical inferiority is no longer as penal as before, when you had to try not to take on water. But at the same time, the understanding of the game and the physical work evolve. The players’ union tries to promote the development of handball while protecting [les joueurs]. I would not say that we have witnessed a huge transformation over the past fifteen years, but there is an evolution that is generally moving in the right direction.
The hand no longer has this image of school sport that we stuck to it before?
Sometimes a little more. But on a ceiling crossed a real. More and more structures are adapted to handball, there is a little more money too. home of handball [à Créteil] is a source of great pride and a formidable working tool. And then the women win almost as many titles as the boys. It’s extremely rare to have two windows like these. French handball has reached a sacred level.