Having spent a memorable week in Trondheim in early January, it is certain that Sander Sagosen was not expecting to back in his hometown so soon.
But with the Coronavirus pandemic bringing the handball season and regular life to a halt, the Norway and Paris Saint-Germain superstar finds himself back at home and is making the most of it.
“I have my own fitness gym in the basement and outside I can throw some balls or play some football tennis, so I am quite ok, but still you have to treat your mind.
“I really like to cook and now I have time to do it with my family and spend time with them, which I usually cannot do at this time.”
Thrown into the deep end
In an Instagram Live interview with ehfTV.com commentator Chris O’Reilly on Monday, the 24-year-old looked back on his four EHF EURO appearances, which in itself is a remarkable feat given his age.
Having made his national team debut in November 2013, aged 18, Sagosen did not have long to wait before being named in the squad for EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.
“It was so big to play with the guys I looked up to in the national team. I am sad we did not go through, but I learned so much from it,” said Sagosen about the preliminary round exit, something he has not experienced since.
“Norwegian mentality is something crazy”
It did not take long for the powerful back court player to become a leader within the team and he would have his part to play as Norway reached their very first semi-final in 2016.
“Christian Berge had a lot of faith in me when he took over the team and I got to the next level in Denmark.”
Many will remember the final day of the main round and Norway’s 29:24 win over France as the day they really arrived as serious contenders, but the PSG player casts his mind back a bit further.
“The group game against Croatia, after we lost the first game to Iceland, was big for me. Coming into the competition with big expectations, then losing the first game meant it was win or leave against Croatia. Winning that was a little breakthrough.
“Then in the main round, we beat Poland in front of 16 or 17,000 Polish fans and then France, it was the breakthrough for us.”
A heart-breaking semi-final loss against eventual champions Germany was followed by defeat against Croatia in the bronze medal match, but this championship signalled a new chapter for the team. This young Norwegian squad were suddenly serious contenders and the medals would soon follow.
“It was a generation change. New players came in and took responsibility straight away. It is something crazy with the Norwegian team with the mentality, wanting to win more and be more successful. This attitude was in the system from the beginning,” says Sagosen, who is not too willing to accept that he has had a big part to play in developing that culture within the team.
“It was a hard punch”
This January’s EHF EURO 2020 began in Sagosen’s home town, in the brand new Trondheim Spektrum.
In front of a packed arena each day, Norway’s star player hit a new level, with captivating and brutally impressive performances throughout the championship as he scored a record 65 goals and helped his side earn their first European medal.
“It is a little bit emotional to talk about it, because it was so special for me. One of the biggest things you can do in sport is represent your country and doing it at home during the EURO was amazing.
“I felt every single person in the arena. For me, it was just an emotional breakthrough, I enjoyed every second of it, I could feel every scream. I had no fear, because I just loved playing in front of the Norwegian crowd. It was something magical.”
Despite winning bronze in January, the semi-final loss to Croatia, 29:28 after extra-time still grates on Sagosen. He and Norway have come so close to going all the way at European and world level and these near misses are painful lessons.
“It is two centimetres, one penalty missed or saved which decided who wins the game. Small, small details. It is hard to talk about it now, it was a hard punch.
“Of course, if you want to be on the top one day, like I want and the team wants, we need to get these margins on our side.”