With 240 international matches under her belt and 15 years in the national team, winning gold at the World Championship 2015 and the EHF EURO 2018 and silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Amandine “Doudou” Leynaud is one of the most experienced players among “Les Bleues”.
The goalkeeper’s skills were crucial on Friday night in the closing moments of France’s main round match against Russia. Although her overall save efficiency of 27 per cent was, by her standards, poor, she made four vital stops in the last minutes to help France secure a 28:28 draw.
With seven points on their account before their last match against Sweden, defending EHF EURO champions France are on course for another semi-final berth – and have put their early elimination from last year’s World Championship well behind them.
ehf-euro.com: You decided to step back a bit, but now you are here again and still in the spotlight – what happened?
Amandine Leynaud: I planned to play the Olympic Games this year and then had in mind to end my career. But then came Covid and changed everything. I had a lot of time to think, and said: “Okay, I still play well, it is too early to stop playing at Györ and mainly in the national team.”
I can’t leave this great team at this moment when I still feel I can help them. There is so much quality in the team, so it would be difficult to say “I’ll leave”.
ehf-euro.com: So we will see you in Tokyo next year?
Amandine Leynaud: If I am good enough and if I am on the right level.
ehf-euro.com: What is your main job outside the national team in the moment, more coach or more player?
Amandine Leynaud: In Györ, I have both functions. I help Silje Solberg and Laura Glauser to step into the footprints of our former trio with Éva Kiss, Kari Grimsbø and me, so I am still part of the team but also coach, trying to improve them. It really works well.
For me personally, this is the perfect start for my next career. I want to be a coach, and I really can learn a lot at Györ, which is simply the best club in the world. And in the national team, Olivier Krumbholz is the boss – and he decides who’s playing. But playing in the national team is so, so special for me, really, from the heart.
ehf-euro.com: Though many different defenders were in front of you in the previous years, the cooperation of goalkeeper and defence has always been the key to French success. Is playing defence a part of French handball DNA?
Amandine Leynaud: It has always been our strongest asset and weapon, since almost 20 years ago, when I started in the junior team. Many of the new players who arrived were inspiration for the attack, but they all had first to do their defence job, this is the most important one. It is always hard work to build a strong defence, but without it you can’t win trophies.
ehf-euro.com: Is it a huge advantage for the national team that the number one goalkeeper and the defence boss Beatrice Edwige play in the same club and can train and play together every day?
Amandine Leynaud: She is the boss, she is such a hard worker, and she knows everything about the attack of every opponent. Like a goalkeeper, she prepares individually on all players, studies videos. Beatrice works in the shadows, not many see how she works for the team, but she is always leading the whole team.
ehf-euro.com: When you look back upon your career, you have been a world champion, Olympic finalist and two years ago European champion. Which trophy is most special?
Amandine Leynaud: I have to choose now? Impossible. It is so difficult to say as every trophy and every medal tells a different story, they were won with different teams in different places. So I simply say: I love all my titles and medals the same way.
ehf-euro.com: After becoming European champions for the first time in 2018, France failed to proceed to the main round at the World Championship 2019 – what happened?
Amandine Leynaud: Easy to say: we are all human. If in sport you knew exactly what happens, you would not have to play a match – then I would not play handball. Norway, for example, have won all titles for many years, but suddenly they missed some medals and now they are back.
For me every training session, every match is challenging. You fight, you work. I love to go step by step – but still you cannot plan everything.
ehf-euro.com: After three victories in the preliminary round – including beating hosts Denmark – France are still unbeaten after winning against Spain and drawing with Russia. How do you rate your chances of making the semi-final?
Amandine Leynaud: This main round constellation is not easy, as we face three completely different teams, for each of which you need to prepare in a special way. At the beginning of the main round, we clearly had in mind that starting with four points does not automatically mean that you are part of the semi-finals, but after the draw against Russia we know that we can make it to the next stage. Definitely, Russia and France played the best of handball in the duel – having in mind the short time of preparation.
ehf-euro.com: You played many international events, how do you feel at the moment amid the unusual Covid-19 circumstances?
Amandine Leynaud: I really feel sorry for all handball fans, but on the other hand all countries should stand behind Denmark and thank them, because they organised this event in these tough times. All players had already hard conditions in their clubs, but now we all have the chance to make the best of it, to make the best of handball.
ehf-euro.com: How are you and your teammates coping with the strict regulations, living in the hotel bubble?
Amandine Leynaud: Mainly, we are happy that the EHF EURO takes place. Second, this isolation is not easy to handle of course, as for example it can be really dangerous in terms of injuries, when you cannot move except at training.
But this is life at the moment, nobody in the world has a normal time currently. So we try to keep in shape and spend time together. With this team, it is never boring, we play games, Grace Zaadi is our DJ – even not everybody agrees with her style of music, but it always makes us happy. Again: you have to make the best of it.