Perez de Vargas’ past experiences hold the key to success
Gonzalo Perez de Vargas returns to Cologne in two weeks for his fifth trip to the VELUX EHF FINAL4. His first moment in the spotlight was in 2011 when he saved an Uwe Gensheimer penalty in the semi-final before Barça went on to win the title.
However, few will remember that he was already a part of the Barcelona squad a year earlier, which was a demonstration of the confidence Xavi Pascual has always shown in the Spanish goalkeeper.
When he returned to Cologne in 2015, Perez de Vargas was not the shy young goalkeeper among a number of great players, he was already one of them. After tasting success again in 2015, he tasted the bitterness of defeat in Cologne two years later.
Full of memories from the good and bad times and learnings from the past, the 28-year-old and Barça return to Cologne knowing exactly what it will take to claim the trophy again on 2 June.
2010 - First time in Cologne, like a kid with new shoes
Back in 2010 at the very first VELUX EHF FINAL4, a 19-year-old Perez de Vargas was with the squad together with four teammates from Barça B.
“It was an amazing experience see LANXESS arena full and experience it live from the inside. We were there for one week, and it seemed like the perfect week until the last 10 minutes of the final, when everything went downhill.”
Xavi Pascual gave him the opportunity to be there and had a crucial role in helping Perez de Vargas become one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Pascual travelled to Toledo twice to sign him, he handed Gonzalo his debut with Barça and called him to be back from loan in 2015.
2011 – First action and the first title
In the semi-final against Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Danijel Saric was playing well but could not stop Uwe Gensheimer.
Xavi Pascual looked to shake things up and sent Perez de Vargas on for a penalty. He saved the shot and “the bench were on their feet. The little boy saves a penalty.
“Then I go on court again and Uwe scores the penalty with a spin shot and the soufflé collapsed,” explains the Spaniard with a laugh.
He was in the roster because Johan Sjöstrand was injured. “The day before, I was with Rodrigo Corrales in the room and Xavi Pascual comes in and tells me I will be in,” recalls Perez de Vargas.
As well as the unforgettable moment on court, his dad won a television by catching a ball thrown from the court, an anecdote adding to a perfect weekend, which ended with a trophy.
“Since that moment, I knew I wanted to be back sooner than later.”
2015 - Champions with determination
It was not an easy road back to Cologne.
“After 2011 I went on loan to Granollers and Toulouse, it was hard for me to forget about Barça, but when I did I began to play better and grow up.”
In the beginning, the arrival of Arpad Sterbik was a blow.
“I thought I could do it, but it is understandable that they signed one of best goalies in history.
“I was back in 2015 as the second goalkeeper. I played 40 minutes in the semi-final. I would have liked to help the team more, but Saric came in and did well in the semi-final and final.
“It was the perfect season with seven titles from seven competitions. We were a dominant team, full of determination, feeling that nobody could beat us,” explains Perez de Vargas.
2017 - The bitterness of Cologne
With Gonzalo as the first choice keeper, Barça finished fourth in 2017 - after losing the semi-final against Vardar in the last second and the bronze medal match versus Veszprém.
Despite the disappointment, it was a weekend full of lessons.
“Nobody expected us to get there, we were a young team in construction, and when we got the ticket for Cologne, we did not drop our performance level, but the intensity did lower. We were not brilliant in the semi-final and just fell short by one goal.
“We changed the way we played a little bit, adapting to Vardar, and it was a mistake.”
2019 – Return to glory?
“We do not know what will happen, but we have a lot of desire and confidence that we can win,” says Perez de Vargas, who claims the lessons from previous years have been taken on board.
“We learned what led us to here, what gives us confidence, defence and run. This is what we must play in Cologne.”
“The feeling is similar to 2015, this season I think we are even more competitive because the group phase was harder. We will not shy away from the challenge, we will play to our strengths and I hope it works.”
Gonzalo Perez de Vargas is among five goalkeepers nominated for this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League All-star team. For the first time, the virtual ballots for their favourite players can be cast exclusively via the revamped VELUX EHF FINAL4 app, which can be downloaded on iOS or Android now.