He is Mr Nice Guy in Berlin – and an interview with Iker Romero is always funny. He is constantly mixing languages from German to English, always has a smile on his face and is joking all the time. The 31-year-old Spaniard feels very comfortable at his new club Füchse Berlin and in the German capital – not just because of the success with his team and despite the different weather compared to Spain.
One year ago, after winning the VELUX EHF Champions League for the second time in his career, the Spanish player changed sides from FC Barcelona to Füchse Berlin – after playing nine years for the Catalans.
Eight months later Romero and his team rank second in the Bundesliga and have reached the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League in their first season in this competition. After a close all-German duel in the first leg, Füchse are ahead by two goals against current German champions HSV Hamburg. But as Romero mentions in this interview with ehfCL.com, "this means nothing".
ehfCL.com: After eight months in Berlin – what are your thoughts, both from a sporting and a private point of view?
Iker Romero: One word: Super! Our Füchse team is growing incredibly, it is really great to be second in the Bundesliga and to have reached the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Everybody’s happy in our team, as we are really doing a great job.
ehfCL.com: What has changed for you personally after leaving behind the sunny weather of Barcelona to restart in Berlin?
Iker Romero: After nine years Barcelona became my second home town after Vittoria, where I was born. The Spanish culture is different to the German culture. Of course, the weather and the food are different. But I really like being in Berlin, it is a super feeling and I am very settled.
ehfCL.com: You mentioned the success of your team on court – have all your expectations been fulfiled?
Iker Romero: By looking on our results all I had expected has been fulfilled – but, nothing is finished yet. We have not really acheived anything up to now, as we are only at the end of March. We have to continue to play at the level we have shown until now - especially in the Bundesliga, as it is our great objective to qualify again for the VELUX EHF Champions League. So we have really tough games ahead, including the second leg of the Last 16 in Hamburg on Sunday. In two months we will know what we have acheived and where we have finished in the end.
ehfCL.com: You had tough battles in your long international career with Barcelona or Ciudad Real. Considering your experience – what is the two-goal advantage from the first leg at home worth for your re-match in Hamburg?
Iker Romero: One word again: nothing! I am playing in my 12th season in the EHF Men's Champions League, and I know that anything can happen. We could win by two goals in Hamburg, but we also can lose by five goals. Everything is possible as both teams are on an very similar level. Little things will decide which team qualifies for the quarter-finals. No team will win with a ten goal margin on Sunday.
ehfCL.com: The first leg was very close for 60 minutes – do you expect the same for the second leg?
Iker Romero: Of course, "alles ist möglich" [everything is possible]. In my opinion the goalkeepers and the defence will decide the match. If our goalkeeper saves 20 shots and the HSV goalie saves only ten then we will win. In my opinion the last ten minutes will decide which team will go on. We have to play like we did on home ground and it is our big advantage that we are – in contrast to Hamburg – not under pressure.
ehfCL.com: How do you rate the latest performances of Füchse in the VELUX EHF Champions League?
Iker Romero: No matter, if we proceed to the quarter-finals or get eliminated on Sunday, we can be very proud of what we have reached. Look, we played in the toughest of all groups in the first stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League. We have beaten opponents like Veszprem, Kielce and Chekhovskie Medvedi – a team which played at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2010. We really played very good matches in our first ever season in the VELUX EHF Champions League. On Sunday we will give 100 per cent – if we get through to the quarter-finals we will be writing history as it would be the biggest ever success for Füchse. If we go out, that's sport, such is life. But we can be proud!
ehfCL.com: You played eight times in the quarter-finals of the EHF Men's Champions League with FC Barcelona – what would it mean to you to reach this level with Füchse Berlin?
Iker Romero: Seven years ago Füchse played in the second German division, now we have the chance to go on to the quarter-finals – this speaks for itself. I won the VELUX EHF Champions League twice with FC Barcelona, but they are the best handball team in the world. To reach the quarter-finals with Füchse would be something very different, to be among the best teams in the world after finishing third in the last Bundesliga season. Incredible, as we have a young team.
ehfCL.com: In May 2011 you won the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy – have you already told your team-mates how it feels to be part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4?
Iker Romero: No, no, not before Sunday. We should not talk about anything else than HSV Hamburg, not mention Cologne. Of course it was an amazing tournament I was twice part of with a great atmosphere in a sold-out arena. So we can dream, as dreaming is always allowed, but our reality is HSV.
ehfCL.com: If you proceed to the quarter-finals, Berlin will be seeded in Pot 1 and will not have to play against teams like Kiel, Barcelona, Montpellier or Madrid. Did you already think about a possible opponent?
Iker Romero: No, no, no, no, no! We are keeping our feet on the ground, so I do not care and do not think about things like that. The quarter-finals are so far away. But if we would really take the next hurdle, you can phone me again on Monday and repeat this question...