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Former Chartres pivot Youssef Ben Ali will play the Champions League Final Four with Barcelona this weekend

That’s a beautiful story. A trajectory like we don’t see so often in high-level sport. In 2019, Youssef Ben Ali, a major player in the club’s rise to the first division, was still scrapping in the Proligue, under the Chartres colors.

Three years later, he is about to play in the Final Four of the Champions League, with one of the biggest clubs in the world, Barcelona! Thursday evening, from Cologne, the 35-year-old pivot told us about this incredible adventure, in which he took his place, notably by scoring 13 goals in the quarter-finals, against Flensburg.

Youssef, how did you end up in Barcelona?
I fell by parachute! I was at my club in Qatar, well established, when Barcelona contacted me last winter following the injury of Luis Frade. I didn’t hesitate, when Barça calls you, you can’t think, you go for it.

How was the adaptation?
I already knew a lot of players and the French helped me get into the atmosphere of the club, it was easy. I speak “un poquito” Spanish, otherwise it’s English or French.

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This is the first time for me, I’m still on the discovery effect. It is said to be the best handball event in the world.

Some things impressed you when you arrived?
All ! The structure, the history of the club, the level of the players, everything is exceptional. Even if I knew the high level well, what I see at Barça, it is not every day that we see it. It’s huge to discover all that, to wear the same colors as these players.

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And you’ve amassed a few more trophies…
I have a flair for titles! But behind, there is a lot of work. Especially since the team went through difficult times with the change of staff. Everyone says it’s easy to win in Spain, but with the fatigue of Champions League trips, I can tell you that nothing is easy.

Youssef Ben Ali leaves C’Chartres MHB

How are you approaching this Final Four?
This is the first time for me, I’m still on the discovery effect. It is said to be the best handball event in the world. At Barça, we necessarily play to win, but we have to go through a big team from Kiel in the half (note: this Saturday at 6 p.m.). When we listen to people, we hear that Kiel is the favourite. But I believe in my team, we can go for the title.

I’m happy to find Thierry Anti, who had been trying to catch me for nine or ten years! And that will allow me to return to Chartres, where I spent two seasons which counted a lot in my career. I also take this opportunity to greet all my friends in Chartres!

It must be something special to meet you in Cologne…
It’s a chance to be able to show myself at this level of competition, and I think I have proven that you can count on me. I’m 13/14 in the two quarter-final matches, even in Chartres I didn’t do that (laughs). It was not easy to replace Ludo Fabregas, but it was an opportunity to prove that the people who chose me were not wrong. I helped the team to qualify, now I hope we will finish well and keep our title.

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Youssef Ben Ali (Chartres): “I got recognition”

What is your role in the group?
I’m important enough, I think. Sometimes I do attack-defense, sometimes just attack. Barça is armored in all positions, the coach only has rich choices! In any case, I feel very, very good, as if I were 24 years old!

Next season, return to France?
Yes, back to France, to Aix-en-Provence. I’m happy to find Thierry Anti, who had been trying to catch me for nine or ten years! And that will allow me to return to Chartres, where I spent two seasons which counted a lot in my career. I also take this opportunity to greet all my friends in Chartres!

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