7M | Baptiste Bonnefond: "We have a great team in Brest and the best is yet to come!"

Baptiste Bonnefond

Guest of our newest 7M interview is occasional French national team player, 2018 EHF Champions League winner currently wearing the jersey of Meshkov Brest - Baptiste Bonnefond. With the national team week currently going on, Baptiste has agreed to talk with us about his beginnings, coaching influences, current form of Meshkov Brest but also his plans for the future. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
It all started in Lyon. With your father Yvan, well-known handball figure in Lyon, by your side was handball your first and only option growing up?
Actually, no because my father let me choose the sport I want to go to myself. That way, before eventually deciding for handball, I used to train judo, tennis and basketball all of which helped me develop physical discipline and the right mindset. Back in the day, just like with any other kid, it was all about spending time both with my friends as well as my father who, I have to add, is still watching all my games.
Apart from your father, are there any other professional athletes in your family tree?
My grandfather Roger Riviere was a French track and road bicycle racer. He was actually three-time world pursuit champion on the track. Unfortunately, he died young so I never really got the chance to meet him but I’ve heard a lot about him and I can say he is a big inspiration for me really.
At 17 years of age, you have decided to move to Montpellier to focus on your handball career. What was it like to move away from home at such a young age?
It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was the right one. Montpellier is the biggest handball club, most important handball city in France. I’ve spent nine seasons there playing with some of the best handball players in the world and working with great coaches. In the beginning, I’ve worked a lot with Frédéric Anquetil who was in charge of Montpellier’s Handball Academy and of course, once I signed my first professional contract with the club and joined the first team, my coach was Patrice Canayer. I’ve really learned a lot from both of them. Anquetil helped me grow in every possible way and Canayer taught me so much although sometimes it was not easy to work with him because his regime is quite hard and strict.
After signing his first professional contract with Montpellier, Bonnefond has in 2015 also received a call up to the French national team.
That was an amazing experience, sharing the court and the locker room with all these star-players. Incredible and it really helped my development process a lot mainly increasing my confidence.
After a short episode in PAUC Handball, you decided to go abroad for the first time signing with Meshkov Brest. How come you decided to Meshkov and how do you like it so far?
I’ve spent two quality seasons in PAUC but I wanted a change, wanted to play on the highest possible level – in EHF Champions League. I’ve had some other offers as well but I decided for Meshkov because I feel like they are building a really good, quality project here in Brest and I believe I’ve made the right choice. Results are not good so far this season but I’m sure we have a lot more to show and that the best is yet to come.
How do you like the city of Brest in general and your new teammates?
Brest is completely different from Lyon, Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence. I like it though, there are some really cool bars and restaurants. I have to say I also like the fact that the atmosphere in the team is really good. We are spending a lot of time together which I believe also helps our team chemistry out there on the court.
What do you feel are the main strengths and weaknesses of this Meshkov Brest team?
We’ve had a lot of injured players in the first few Champions League matches of the season. In the most recent ones we’ve slowly started catching the right rhythm which was especially visible in our match against Elverum which I feel like could have gone either way. Attack is good, we’re scoring around 30 goals per game which is fine but we have to work on our defense. This international break will also provide us with a bit more time to work on our game, get everything in sync. Once we’re all back and ready we’ll also get more confident on both sides of the court in my opinion. I know we have a great team which can win a lot of games.
You’ve talked about Patrice Canayer and Frédéric Anquetil earlier. Are there any other coaches who have helped you become the player you are today?
I have to mention Thierry Anti and the time we’ve spent together in Aix-en-Provence. We’ve had a really good relationship, he is easy to talk to and work with. My current coach Dani Gordo is really good as well. He is a really good guy in general who also has a good relationship with all the guys in the team.
Are there any players you look up to, players you’re modelling your game after?
I have three names in mind. The first one is Nikola Karabatic. Incredible player. I still remember the moment I met him back when I was only 17. Next one is Alberto Entrerrios. His style was a bit different than mine is right now but I really like watching him growing up and the third is Stefan Lövgren. He is one of the best to ever step on the handball court. I still remember watching his THW Kiel play. I like the way he adapted to the game becoming more of a playmaker after starting as a right back. Great players, all three of them.
You’ve managed to climb the European throne with Montpellier back in 2018. Can you compare the Cologne tournament with the one you’ve played in Zadar a few months ago?
Of course, it was a pleasure to share the court with such teams. It was a great event in general I have to say. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 stands were empty, but I hope the next SEHA F4 will be the real spectacle with fans in everything. However, even despite of that, I have to say it was nice to be a part of such a well-organized tournament in Zadar.
Where will Baptiste Bonnefond be in 5-10 years? What are your thoughts about coaching one day? You do have good coaching genes and you’ve surely learned a lot from all these great coaching names.
That’s a really hard question. I’d like to compete on the highest possible level for as long as possible, that’s for sure. And after my playing career I know I want to move back to France. I’m not sure yet about coaching though, although my parents are both teachers so I definitely have that in my DNA. I’ve always liked helping younger players to be honest so we’ll see.
And what is Baptiste Bonnefond like away from the handball court?
I like to spend the time at the beach. I’m into spearfishing – I like that feeling of being alone down there with nothing but my own thoughts. That really calms me down. Of course, I like to spend time with my friends, we often play padel. I travel often as well. I’ve spent the last Christmas Holidays on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. It was fun to run away from the cold and snow and spend Christmas under the sun and in the shorts.  Also, I’ve been away from my home town for almost 12 years now so I’m using every chance I get to go back home and spend some time with my family.