23.11.2022, 08:00
News Interview

A. Wolff: I enjoy the game again [INTERVIEW]

  • Maciej Szarek
  • Tekst

"I was like a rolling dice. The coach was throwing and counting for a good result. If a team wants to succeed, it cannot rely on such a goalkeeper," says Andreas Wolff, reflecting on the unlucky 2020/2021 season. In the face of the difficult financial situation of the Club, the goalkeeper assures: "I have full trust in President Bertus Servaas and I look forward to my future in Kielce. I can imagine I will end my career here".

The statistics says it all: since Andreas Wolff joined Łomża Industria Kielce in 2019, he has never played as well as at the beginning of the 2022/2023 season (data available at the end of the text). In a deep interview, Andi tells us how he overcame the crisis symbolized by the lost game against HBC Nantes, what put him at "the worst moment in his career" and explains how he reacted to the news about the Club's financial problems.

Maciej Szarek, Łomża Industria Kielce: We will talk a lot about the effectiveness of goalkeepers. What number means a good game for you?

Andreas Wolff, Łomża Industria Kielce goalkeeper: It is never good enough for me! The number is 100% of saves. Of course, this is an impossible result, but it shows my mentality that I always want to reach perfection. I can be happy with my performance as long as I can help my teammates win the game.

That's why I still remember your words after one of the matches: “I apologise to my friends. I am the most responsible for the defeat".

This was after the game against HBC Nantes in 2021 (Łomża Industria Kielce lost 31:34 and got eliminated from the Champions League). It was a horrible evening for me. At that time I was the captain of the team and I played an awful match (Andreas Wolff achieved 16% effectiveness, defended 5 out of 31 balls). And yet I came to Kielce to win trophies and be one of the key figures in the team! I felt like I had let the team, the fans and myself down. I was really devastated. We were the favorites of this match, we had big ambitions to participate in the EHF Final4.

wolff ptak nantes dom

Was that the culmination of your bad season?

At one point, it was the worst moment in my career.

Go on, please.

It all began when I got sick with Covid-19. I started the 2020/2021 season really well, but I got infected in November 2020 and spent six weeks in quarantine. All this time I was sitting sick, all by myself. My only activities were training in the home gym and playing on the computer. I imagine this is not the best preparation for an athlete. Being a goalkeeper is a lot about mentality, but you also have to be well prepared physically. Especially with my style of play.

After I finished my quarantine, it was the 2021 World Cup in Egypt. Many of my German colleagues missed the tournament because of Covid-19, but I was pretty optimistic and decided to play. The German team went to the tournament in a young and inexperienced squad, I was also far from the perfect shape. As a result, I played a very weak tournament (16/67, 28% - ed.).

Have you lost your confidence?

Yes. I came back to Kielce, but still played below expectations. I have lost confidence in myself, my style of play and my feelings. Day by day I was feeling worse physically and mentally. It was like a snowball of bad emotions. One disappointment led to another and to another. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort to work it back.

What do you mean by the “snowball”?

I always approach a match with the hope of helping the team and being one of the best players on the pitch. It is known that goalkeepers have a very big influence on the result, so there are very high expectations towards us. Everyone is counting on us: our teammates, coach, fans, and finally ourselves. My ambition drives me to always try to be the best. I know my capabilities and when I am not close to them, I am disappointed. If it gets consecutive, I get frustrated and it only gets worse.

This is a very dangerous phenomenon. It is not a comparison, but I will give you an example of Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United. He is one of the greatest players in football history, but he has found himself in a negative spiral recently and finds it very difficult to play at his unbelievably high level under these circumstances.

Did your ambition play in your favor? After all, they say that being goalkeeper means constant failure.

You are right to some extent. If my ambition wants me to reach 100% saves, every conceded goal is a loss, another mistake. And now handball continues to get faster, so it is getting harder and harder. The pace of the game is so high that although you concede 37 goals, you save 16 balls and your team wins. I am talking about the game against THW Kiel this season (Łomża Industria Kielce won 40:37, Andreas Wolff got the effectiveness of 16/53, 30%). You have to get used to it. The older I am, it gets easier for me.


So what was your biggest problem at the time?

I did not have that consistency that you can expect from me. While I generally did not live up to expectations, it was also not that I played horribly in all games. For every good match there was one weak one, and that was the problem. It was hard to predict how I would play. I was like a rolling dice. The coach was throwing and counting for a good score. If it was "six",  I played at 40%, but if it was “one" – at 10%. If a team wants to be successful, it cannot rely on such a goalkeeper.

How did you cope with expectations and criticism? After the loss of the inauguration of the Champions League season 2021/2022 in Bucharest (29:32), the Sport.pl portal entitled its text: "One of the best goalkeepers in the world? A catastrophe!". You saved 5 out of 37 balls that day (14%).

Especially at the beginning of my stay in Kielce, I felt high expectations. I know why I came to Łomża Industria Kielce, but I didn't have it in my head for a very long time. I always wanted to be a valuable asset to the team in the first place and luckily I proved that I can be one before the dark time comes.

Criticism was a consequence of unfulfilled expectations. I know I failed at some point and I have to face it. I cannot get all the praise when I play well and say that no one has the right to criticize when I play badly. In the era of social media, some criticism is constructive and legitimate, but some is simply offensive. I am not talking about myself now, but I am generalizing. As an athlete, you have to get used to it. Of course, when you read something bad about yourself, you feel sad. But all you can do about it is to play better in the next game and use it as motivation.

What has changed that a year after the match against HBC Nantes and seven months after the match in Bucharest, you reached the level that brought the Łomża Industria Kielce team to the EHF Final4 against Montpellier HB (13/27, 48%) and secured the Polish Championship in the decisive game in Płock (18/38, 47%)?

There was no miraculous one moment. It was a slow progress that would not have been possible without the people around me: coaches, teammates, fiancée and family. It was a common effort.

At the turn of 2021 and 2022, I worked with a sports psychologist. It helped me to realize many things. Especially in terms of how to deal with the expectations that everyone and I have of myself. My coaches, Tomasz Błaszkiewicz in the club and Mattias Andersson in the German national team, also did a great job. They trusted me and I started to listen to them very carefully. I worked a lot and we rebuilt my form together step by step.

Tomasz Błaszkiewicz, goalkeeping coach at Łomża Industria Kielce: There is no need to say anything about Andy's current shape. It is enough to recall his recent performances and look at the statistics. I am proud of him because he has been doing very hard work recently. He had a weaker moment, but he was able to get out of it. In my opinion, the key to success was opening up to even better dialogue and introducing a little more fun into what he was doing. I think Andi is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and working with him is very rewarding.

Before, you talked about your feelings after bad matches. And what did you think after the successful ones?

I felt a kind of relief. And the joy that I was able to help the team again.

What lessons helped you get back on the top?

There are many of them. I already know that I don't have to be so tense during training and matches. As coach Talant Dujshebaev tells me, I have to play the game, not work the game. I've learned that you can't force something good in sport, no matter how hard you try. And sometimes I even tried too hard. You have to work to constantly develop your skill set, but feel joy while playing. Among children, the fastest runner or the highest jumper is rarely the best. The best is the one who has the greatest joy. I have come a long way to remind myself that the joy of the game was the reason I started playing handball in the first place. I lost it for a while, but now I have it back.

I've improved in accepting failures. From the beginning of my career, I had a problem with that. If I was playing badly, I wanted to correct it immediately. Now I know that every time I have to work through the game in a positive way and think about what went wrong. If I don't, it's silly work. The final stage of this lesson was to accept that sometimes I might not do anything wrong but still lose because my opponent had hit his amazing day.

And I don't think too much anymore! It's much better when I don't consider all my options throughout the match. I just play and let my intuition be my leader. As a goalkeeper, you gather so much information that it sometimes hits you like a truck. You see the player and you start to think, "Oh, from this position he throws like that, but if he moves half a meter to the left, he throws differently". You try to predict all the time, but you end up late and concede a goal. I have learned that it is better for me to just wait calmly for whatever comes in my direction.

Thanks to this, in the season 2022/2023 you have scored the highest effectiveness since you came to Kielce? With a goalkeeper like this the team can achieve everything.

We already played in the Champions League final last season and I'm sure we still have a lot of potential left. We have a lot of young players who are about to reach their prime time. If we play well now, I know we can play great because we have even more talent. I see it every day during training. We started this season well in the Champions League and PGNiG Superliga. Now we have to be careful to keep this level until the end of the year and come back just as strong after the World Cup. This is when the decisive matches will come.

Andi screen

Six rounds of the Champions League are behind us, and you have already been in the Team of the Week twice. Same as your interventions among the Best Saves of the Round. The penalty against THW Kiel was particularly sensational. The official broadcaster of the Champions League in Poland, Eurosport, commented on your performances with the words: "It’s Jean-Claude Van Wolff".

I saw it and really liked it! I also think that it was a good save (laughs)! It was one of those times when I didn't think too much. Flexibility is something you can stubbornly work on every day.

I don't know why you're making your life more difficult. After all, it was easier to reach this ball with your hand!

I know (laughs)! I admit that such a technique is not obvious, especially for a goalkeeper of my height, but I feel good about it! Sometimes Niklas Landin or Benjamin Burić do it as well, but we are talking about the best goalkeepers in the world. In such saves, talent is not enough. You have to work hard on it.

So let's leave defending with legs, as head interventions are a hot topic this season. After the rules change, goalkeepers are better protected and players may be penalized for throwing in the face. Are you happy with the new regulations?

The way they are now, they are perfect. I know that saving with our heads is also part of our job, but I'm definitely not the one who can handle them best (laughs)! Throws near the goalkeeper's face are usually the last option for a player if you close all other directions well. The players then throw with all their strength and hope that the goalkeeper will try to move away. It feels rewarding that now they are risking being punished like we are risking an injury. I think the new rules will get rid of these frustrating attempts. I don't think any player is purposely targeting the face, but now everyone will think twice if they try to throw like this. However, in the goalkeeping technique, this does not change anything.

Will goalkeepers not be simulating to impose a punishment for the opponent?

It would be very mean and contrary to a sporting attitude that is based on fairness. You win, because you are better, not because you cheated. I had such a situation during the match in Celje. I immediately told the referees that the ball hit my shoulder first. I didn't think about acting for a moment.

And what did you think when President Bertus Servaas announced to you that the club would lose its main sponsor? From the beginning of 2023, the Łomża brand will disappear from the team name.

I have full trust  in Bertus Servaas and the others at the club. It is the players' job to focus on the game, and that is exactly what the team is doing now. We are fully committed to our goals and I am sure negative news will not affect our game. Let me repeat that my trust in the club is huge and I look forward to my future in Kielce.

Especially since your contract is valid until July 2028. This is one of the longest contracts in the team. What is behind such a long agreement?

We have an amazing team, a great club, a great coach, and there is no team in the world that I can say is better than us. There is no other place where I would like to be now. I am really happy in Kielce and I consider it a privilege to be part of Łomża Industria Kielce. I feel like I am in a big handball family.

The best thing about our team is that not only do I have an extended contract, but also many of my colleagues. It's pretty amazing because it lets us know that we are part of a larger project that will stay for a long time. It's not like we found a great team for a year or two and then we say, "Ok, guys, it was nice to meet you, see you soon!". We still have six years of playing together. I hope we can make the most of our potential, win the Champions League and write history.

Your contract extension was announced in June 2021, shortly after the ill-fated match against HBC Nantes. Did Bertus Servaas took advantage of your weaker negotiating position?

On the contrary, he has shown me full trust, for which I am grateful! We talked for a long time about the new contract and the extension also helped me focus on each game to come and not think too much about the future. I am glad that it is connected with Kielce.

On the day we signed the documents, we played the Polish Cup semi-final against Orlen Wisła Płock. We won and I saved sixteen balls. I guess that was a good sign (laughs)!

Can you imagine Andreas Wolff ending his career in Kielce?

Of course! I will be 37 years old when my contract expires. It is valid for six more years. It is a very long time and that is why I don't make any plans after 2028. I don't know what my physical condition will look like. Apart from that, I just bought a flat in Kielce. I think that also says that I am very attached to the city.