Every time going gets hard – Zlatko Horvat is there, both for PPD Zagreb throughout the last 20 years as well as in the Croatian national team where he has lately grown into the co-captain role. He was patiently and steadily growing as a player while in the meantime becoming a fan favorite because of loyalty towards his Zagreb team. All these years are building a case for him being one of the all-time greats to ever wear the jersey of multiple Croatian champs alongside players from the early 90s who were building club’s legacy in Europe back while he was only a kid. By all that he also became a father for the third time in 2018 with his boys Andrej and Pavle getting a sister Lara to look after.
Zlatko Horvat is the main star of our Final 4 Magazine who shared with us his opinions about personal and professional life and much more. Read the first part of the interview with Zagreb captain.
Good season overall, maybe even above expectations?
Kind of because we’ve managed to achieve goals we set for ourselves prior to the seasons securing a place in Champions League’s Last 16 phase as well as qualifying for the SEHA Final 4 tournament which is, considering all the roster changes and financial reality, quite a big step forward. We were also dealing with a lot of injuries throughout almost the entire season and we won’t have everyone on disposal at the final tournament in Brest either. I believe that’s the biggest concern. We made a lot of things function the right way with coach Cervar in the first part of the season and we kind of speeded everything up with Tamse now. I feel like we’re looking quite well and that we can be a threat against anyone. However, most important matches are still ahead of us and fight with Nexe for national trophies is a priority. They managed to show a big progress this season and they’ll be a tough opponent to face and the best proof of that is the fact they managed to qualify for the SEHA Final 4 while at the same time displaying some great performances in the EHF Cup. Ambitions are also present in Champions League and at the SEHA final tournament. Zagreb are always eager to go all the way, in every competition.
Fifth-best Champions League scorer after the group phase?
That’s not something I focus on honestly. I feel like it’s a result of how the entire team plays, that’s all.
There is also one big problem which seems to be unsolvable…
Rhythm we’re dealing with throughout the season is amazingly tough to handle. Both club and national team obligations are hard to deal with in case your roster is not wide enough and the fact that SEHA final tournament is scheduled right after Champions League eighth-finals clashes is the best confirmation of that. You simply don’t have enough time to prepare in the right way for everything and competition is rising year in – year out. Stakes have never been higher. I mean, we have three CL-bound teams as well as Nexe who are doing great in EHF Cup. It’s not an easy thing to do and that’s why I feel like there are no favorites on this tournament. Two matches in two days are always hard and whoever ends up having a better day will go all the way.
Your eighth Final 4 appearance?
I went through a lot – title in Skopje in the second season as well as an amazingly close final last year in Macedonian capital, too. To go along with some semi-final losses. Being able to go that far in such a quality competition from season to season is a big thing we often forget or consider something normal and usual. I feel like SEHA made a huge progress in these eight years proving that a decision to start a project like that was a great one. Teams and players are growing with every match and the results in Europe are a clear proof of that. This season was amazing and from what I’m hearing - next one will be even better…
Children are also a proof that the time is going by. Are you starting to think about calling it a career?
Not yet really because I’m still playing well and feeling well. I feel like I’m generally in a good shape and I’m not planning to retire just yet. In case I manage to stay healthy I believe I can play for many years to come.
We’ll see, there are always two sides that must be on the same page in order to make a deal. I’ve been here for my entire career and I feel great. Zagreb are always trying to win it all and there is no better motivation than that. Maybe I could have earned a bit more somewhere else but that’s never been a deciding factor for me. I could have moved on but I’m not sorry I didn’t. There were offers from Germany, France and Hungary but not a single one which would make me say goodbye to Zagreb.
You have been wearing Zagreb’s captain band for a long time now. Do you still remember the moment you wore it for the first time?
Of course, it was back in 2006 after Denis Spoljaric, who was the captain at the moment, left. So yeah, 12 long years. It was a bit odd for me back then since I was only 24 years old but I was given the chance because I started playing the game here and it turned out great. I’m older now and I used to captain some amazingly talented players which was quite different. However, you learn a lot throughout the process that’s for sure.
Handball has always been your No.1 choice?
I made that decision quite fast although I was pretty good at football as well. I went to Ruder Boskovic high school and already back then I was pretty sure the right decision is to choose handball.
Do you see your kids playing handball as well?
No, they’ll choose their way. Maybe it will be handball, who knows?