Andrei Xepkin is the only man to have won the EHF Champions League title a record number of seven times.
In this extract from ‘Celebrate the passion, EHF Champions League – The Story’, a special publication produced for the 15th anniversary of the competition, EHF journalist, Björn Pazen, tells his story:
It’s 29 April 2007, when Andrei Xepkin entered “Tony’s“ Restauarnat in the handball city of Kiel, the whole party went quiet for just a second. All 120 heads turned to face the entrance, a lot of them had to crank their necks upwards. The 2.05 metre giant parted the masses when he entered.
Some applauded, others cheered. “There’s only one Andrei Xepkin, one Andrrrreeeeiiiiieeeeeepkiiiiiiin”, sung the master of ceremonies Klaus-Dieter Petersen rhythmically into the microphone. The rest of the party agreed. They celebrated their hero.
Kiel paid homage to the most successful handball player of the Champions League. Xepkin was born in Ukraine but then took a Spanish passport.
He is immortal in the eyes of many, and we are not just talking about Kiel there.
Upon winning the EHF Champions League title in 2007, he reserved a place for himself in the record books. Why? Well, Xepkin had also clocked up victories in the 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2005 Champions League with Barcelona.
He is the first and only player to ever have won seven titles in the EHF Champions League. Only his friend Xavier O´ Callaghan of FC Barcelona has celebrated such a victory seven times – six times in the Champions League and once back in 1991 in the IHF Champions’ Cup.
Let’s go back over the story: Kiel’s Swedish line player Marcus Ahlm tore a tendon in his shoulder during the Champions League semi-final 1st leg in Pamplona.
He had to be operated on and it became obvious that he would be out for the rest of the season. In the THW camp, they were getting more and more desperate for players.
After all, Ahlm was the fourth top-class player to be out with injury.
Uwe Schwenker, the THW Kiel Manager at that time, was still in the corridors of the hall of Portland San Antonio when he made a phone call to Xavier O´Callaghan, at FC Barcelona.
It was a “heave ho” move and Andrei Xepkin was out of retirement and active once again. He had originally retired back in 2005.
Just days after the first call, Xepkin arrived in Kiel along with his wife Viktoria and son Ivan. “When a club like Kiel asks you to join up, then you don’t think about it for long, you say yes pretty quickly”, explains “El Gigante”, which is the nickname of the 2.05 metre, 124 kilo, shoe size 50 man.
A successful and unique story in the history of the Champions League.