Back in the 1970s the name on everyone’s lips in Norway was Harald Tyrdal, the giant from Refstad who joined the world team in 1974. He was the only Norwegian to achieve that honour until Ole Gustav Gjekstad in 1994 and then Kristian Kjelling in 2005.
And then along came Sander Sagosen. In 2015 internet site Handball-Planet.com named the Trondheim-born player the best young player in the world, a title he also earned the following two years. In December 2018, Handball-Planet named Sagosen best world handball player.
"It's a title I want to achieve several times," says Sagosen, although nobody would assume that he is content with how far he has come already. Clearly, Sagosen is special, both for Norway and his club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).
But these days, it’s not his own glory that occupies the 24-year-old’s mind. Now he wants Norway to emerge as the best team in Europe.
Norway's EHF EURO 2020 journey begins in Sagosen’s own playground: he threw his first handballs in lower Charlottenlund, just 10 minutes away from EHF EURO venue Trondheim Spektrum.
Handball over football
Like most other ball talents, Sagosen also played football. He even chose football over handball when he was chosen for the regional team as a 13-year-old. Mum Monica and dad Erlend did not object. But Erlend was probably glad when Sagosen later chose handball.
Erlend Sagosen – with 14 international matches for Norway as a goalkeeper – helped his son develop in both sports. At the Sagosens’ house there was artificial grass in the garden and a gym in the basement. Those were conditions for someone who wanted to become something – such as the young Sander.
“I decided to become the best in the world. Why engage in something if you don’t want to be the best?” asks Sagosen now. “If you want to, there is nothing that can stop you. And since I was above average both in terms of skills and drive, it was easy to believe that I could be something.”
Sagosen also had ambitions on behalf of his little brother Ciljan. Believing the family also needed a left-handed player, he tied little Ciljan’s right arm to his back. The attempt at gene manipulation ended quickly, which the 12-year-old is probably happy about. Just like his big brother, he has started at Charlottenlund, and just like Sander, he is very talented.
“It would be fun to play together on the national team some day, but the most important thing right now is that Ciljan is having fun. He may become really good, but it's a long way to go – and I don't want him to be compared to me,” says Sagosen.
The brothers also have a handballing sister; 19-year-old Ine is a top scorer for Charlottenlund SK.
The right steps
Sagosen has no doubts as to whom he should be thanking for where he is today, playing for one of the world's best club teams, PSG, and with world championship silver medals from 2017 and 2019.
“Mum and Dad have meant everything,” he says. “Dad has taught me what I can, and he has also taught me our values. He’s the one who knows me the best, and he’s also the best coach I’ve ever had.
“Mum can sometimes be forgotten, but she’s the one who makes it all work. It's teamwork,” Sagosen adds.
After starting out at Charlottenlund, Sagosen moved to Trondheim’s Kolstad Håndball, then Haslum HK, before heading to Aalborg and his first experience of the VELUX EHF Champions League in 2014. Three years later, he made the move to PSG, joining a team with other players who have also been voted the world’s best, Nikola Karabatic and Mikkel Hansen. It sounds like the perfect learning curve.
“I have taken the right steps, combined with receiving good support from my family. You need to take the necessary steps, and then one day you'll be at the top of the stairs,” Sagosen says.
He adds that he does not consider that the effort he has put in is a sacrifice.
“I don't look at it that way. When you decide to go all in on handball, you receive so much else in addition. It becomes a way of life. If I hadn't ‘sacrificed’ anything, I wouldn't be where I am today. I made my choices,” Sagosen says.
His life at PSG is devoted to handball.
“The team meets at 3 o'clock. Then there is an hour of video, then an hour and a half to two hours of handball and then a strength session in the end,” Sagosen reveals. “When I'm home sometime between 8 o’clock and half past 8, I'm tired. Then it’s all about getting some food and throwing yourself onto the couch to watch some TV.”
???? @sandersagosen is a world-class player and deserves to be named Norway's national hero ????????????
As he will play at home, can he get a statue built for him for brigning the trophy back home for @NORhandball? ???????? pic.twitter.com/gaVAk3EQSh
— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) December 18, 2019
Playing with the best
After three years in Paris, Sagosen is preparing to move on again, to Germany and the Bundesliga, arguably the world's toughest handball league. Next autumn he will play for German giants THW Kiel, fulfilling a prophecy from Aalborg coach Jesper Jensen back in 2014 when Sagosen was just 19. Jensen told the Danish media: "He can become a playmaker in Kiel or Barcelona."
“It's about trying the Bundesliga,” Sagosen explains. “The French league is starting to become good, but the Bundesliga is the best in the world.
“The commitment and interest around the Bundesliga is extreme and unique, and it is tougher physically. That's why I’m doing it while I have the body for it. The older you get, the heavier it gets.”
He adds that he is not scared of stories of endless bus trips around Germany, and he is looking forward to playing alongside the likes of fellow Norwegian Harald Reinkind at Kiel.
“Yes, it will be fun to play with Harald. I'll try to serve him some good passes,” Sagosen says.
EHF EURO in focus
In his third international match under Robert Hedin, six years ago, Sagosen took charge of the timeout and told young and old what the team should do, showing there has never been anything wrong with his self-esteem.
Yet despite continued confidence, the player is still not happy with all his achievements – even the two world championship finals against France in 2017 and Denmark in 2019.
“I did not play my best matches in the world championship finals, and so I’ve been thinking: What does it take for body and mind to perform better in such a situation? I've been working on that a lot,” Sagosen says.
“I believe and hope and dream that we will be at the top of the podium after the European championship final. We have a team that is good enough for it.”
Where the result leaves Sagosen as an individual is, he says, less important.
“There are many opinions about who the best player in the world is. I don’t involve myself with that,” Sagosen adds.
“For me, it's about training well every day and developing myself. Taking steps all the time,” he concludes.
That’s Sander Sagosen.