Top 5 Ranked Mens Handball Players Of All Time
Handball is a team sport that requires great chemistry and communication to succeed. Nonetheless, some players rise to the top and lead their teams to greatness seemingly single-handedly. Read on to learn about these titans of the sport and what they accomplished to earn their spot on this list.
Who Are the Top 5 Men’s Handball Players of All Time?
- Ivano Balić
- Nikola Karabatić
- Magnus Wislander
- Talant Dujshebaev
- Mikkel Hansen
1. Ivano Balić
- Voted Best Male Handball Player of All Time in an online IHF poll
- Two-time IHF World Player of the Year
- One-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time Olympic bronze medalist
- MVP of the World Men’s Handball Championships (2005, 2007) and the Men’s European Handball Championships (2004, 2006)
- Best center-back of the Liga ASOBAL for three consecutive seasons (2004-2007)
While Ivano Balić was not always on the world’s greatest teams, his flashy attacking presence has caught the eyes of handball fans around the world. Balić is best known for playing with the Croatian National Team, where he captured five straight MVP trophies at five major tournaments. After winning the World Championships with Croatia in 2003, Balić was MVP of the 2004 European Championships, the 2004 Olympic Games, the 2005 World Championships, the 2006 European Championships, and the 2007 World Championships. This incredible run solidified Balić as one of the best to ever play.
Despite these individual accolades, Balić remains a team player, downplaying his own success to that of the team. His teams still have had success, though: Croatia captured gold medals at the 2001 Mediterranean Games, the 2003 World Championships, the 2004 Olympics, and the 2006 World Cup, along with many silver and bronze medals at various tournaments.
In 2010, the International Handball Federation (IHF) held an online poll asking who the greatest handball players of all time were. Balić was one of the three male nominees, alongside Nikola Karabatić and Talant Dujshebaev. Balić won 48.7% of the overall vote, giving him the title of Best Male Handball Player of All Time, although many argue that Karabatić has surpassed him in recent years.
2. Nikola Karabatić
- First player to be named IHF World Player of the Year three different times
- Three-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time Olympic silver medalist
- MVP of the Handball World Championships (2011, 2017) and the European Championships (2008, 2014)
- Nine gold medals in international competitions
In recent years, Nikola Karabatić has made his case for being the greatest handball player of all time. His third IHF World Player of the Year award in 2016 gave him the most ever at the time after winning it previously in 2007 and 2014. Apart from these, he also has 36 other individual awards, including being the MVP of the 2011 and 2017 World Championships and the 2008 and 2014 European Championships.
Karabatić’ began his club career with Montpellier HB, where his team won four French league titles in a row, from 2002-2005, and won the European Handball Federation Champions League in 2003. He then won four straight German titles with THW Kiel (2006-2009) before returning to France and winning three straight titles with Montpelier again (2010-2012). He then won the Spanish league twice with FC Barcelona Handball (2014 and 2015) and the French league (2016-2018) with Paris Saint-Germain Handball.
Karabatić has also been a part of successes at the international level. Despite being born in then-Yugoslavia, Karabatić’s family relocated to France when he was a child, and he plays for the French National Team in international handball. With Karabatić on the team, France won gold at the European Championships in 2006, 2010, and 2014; the Olympic Games in 2008, 2012, and 2020; and the World Championships in 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2017.
Karabatić uses his strength to get shots off and distribute the ball on offense and is a physical wall on defense. His game is often likened to LeBron James in basketball. Karabatić’s legacy though has been tarnished due to his involvement in a match-fixing scandal. While the scandal doesn’t take away from his immense skill on the court, it does taint his legacy.
3. Magnus Wislander
- Named Best Male Handball Player of the 20th Century by the IHF
- Two gold medals at the World Championships and four gold medals at the European Championships
- Three-time Olympic silver medalist
- Swedish National Team record for goals and appearances (1185 goals in 385 appearances)
Magnus Wislander is a former Swedish handball player who played club handball for Regberdslid Goteborg in Sweden and THW Kiel in Germany. At Regberdslid, Wislander won the Elitserien (Swedish league) five times, including four seasons in a row (from 1984-1985 to 1988-1989). Wislander helped Kiel win the Bundesliga (German league) seven times in nine seasons from 1993-1994 to 2001-2002. He was also voted as the best player of THW Kiel every year from 1994-1999 and the best foreign player in the Bundesliga from 1994-1996.
Wislander also had a great international career, winning gold at two World Championships (1990 and 1999) and four of the first five European Championships (1994, 1998, 2000, and 2002). Sweden came tantalizingly close to earning gold at the Olympics, too, but instead brought home three silver medals (1998, 1992, and 1996). In 2000, Wislander was elected Best Male Handball Player of the 20th Century by the IHF. He was also selected the Best Player of the 20th Century by Sweden.
4. Talant Dujshebaev
- First-ever two-time IHF Player of the Year
- One-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Olympic bronze medalist
- MVP of the European Championships (1996), the World Championships (1997), and the Summer Olympics (2000)
- On the ballot for IHF Best Male Handball Player of All Time
While there have been better players after him, it’s arguable that Talant Dujshebaev was the best player of his time. He certainly has the hardware to back it up: Dujshebaev has won 62 trophies, 37 as a manager, over his long career.
Dujshebaev played for the Unified Team (recently the Soviet Union’s team) in 1992, winning a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics. He scored the most goals in the entire tournament, with 47 in seven matches, and was also voted Best center-back of the tournament. Dujshebaev also won best center-back awards at the 1995 World Championship, 1997 World Championship, and 1998 European Championship. He was MVP of three different tournaments: the 1996 European Championships, 1997 World Championships, and 2000 Summer Olympics.
Dujshebaev went on to play 133 matches for the Russian National Team in the next year, scoring 726 goals. He then became a Spanish citizen and scored 569 goals in 158 matches. Dujshebaev’s performances on the domestic and international levels earned him one of three spots on the IHF’s Best Male Handball Player of All Time voting ballot in 2010. He finished second to Magnus Wislander in the IHF’s Best Player of the 20th Century voting. Dujshebaev earned two IHF Player of the Year awards as well, in 1994 and 1996.
5. Mikkel Hansen
- Three-time IHF World Player of the Year
- Three-time gold medalist in three different major international tournaments
- Two-time top goalscorer of the EHF Champions League
- One-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time Olympic silver medalist
- Six-time All-Star Left-back across four different competitions
- Six-time top goal scorer across three different competitions
- Holds the record for most goals scored in an Olympic handball tournament (61)
It is not often that a left-back is heralded as a top player in handball, but Mikkel Hansen undoubtedly is. Similar in build to his Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Nikola Karabatić, Hansen is a powerful shooter and a proven goal scorer.
Hansen was the top goalscorer in the World Championship twice (2011, 2019), the EHF Champions League (2012, 2016), and the LNH Division I (French league) (2015, 2016). He brought home All-Star left-back honors in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics; the 2011 World Championships; the 2012, 2014, and 2018 European Championships; and the 2017, 2019, and 2021 EHF Champions League. Hansen was the All-Star Playmaker of the Champions League in 2014 and 2015 as well. At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Mikkel Hansen was the tournament’s top goalscorer and helped Denmark bring home a silver medal.
Mikkel Hansen plays for the Danish National Team. In six major international competitions, Hansen’s teams have brought home four gold and four silver medals. His club teams have brought home a combined 24 trophies throughout his 20-plus-year career.
- Three-time Olympic gold medalist
- Two-time Handball World Champion
- Only player to ever win an Olympic gold medal for three different teams
- Named “Russian Handball Player of the Century”
- Captain of the Russian Handball Team
Andrey Lavrov is an all-time great goalkeeper from Russia. Lavrov had a long and storied career in the net, with three Olympic gold medals to back his claim to greatness. Interestingly, Lavrov is the only handball player to ever win an Olympic gold medal with three different teams. He won Olympic gold representing the Soviet Union in 1988, the Unified Team in 1992, and Russia in 2000.
Outside of this Olympic success, Lavrov also won gold medals in the 1993 and 1997 Handball Men’s World Championships. Andrey is a legend in Russia, having captained their handball team for many years, and was named the Russian Handball Player of the Century in 2001.
- Named “Greatest Handball Player of All Time” in 1992
- Olympic bronze medalist (1972)
- Eight-time Romanian League Champion (1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973)
- Two-time Handball World Champion (1964 and 1970)
- Commonly considered the “Father of Handball” in Mexico
Gheorghe Gruia is a legendary Romanian right-back whose impact on and off the court is still felt today. He received one of the highest honors a handball player could ever dream of earning, being named the Greatest Handball Player of All Time by the International Handball Federation in 1992.
Gruia was a force to be reckoned with on the court, having won the Romanian league eight times and securing seven consecutive championship titles from 1967-1973. Gheorghe also secured an Olympic bronze medal in 1972 with the Romanian Handball Team and also netted two Handball World Championship titles in 1964 and 1970.
After his playing career came to an end, Gruia moved to Mexico City and became a staple of the sport in Mexico. He coached various Mexican handball teams, including the Mexican National Handball Team from 1978-1980 and 1988-1991, and is largely credited with popularizing the sport in Mexico. His dedication to the sport and its growth in Mexico has earned him the distinction of being the father of handball in Mexico in the eyes of many fans.
What men’s handball player has won the most Olympic gold medals?
There are currently two players tied for the most Olympic gold medals, Nikola Karabatić and Luc Abalo. Each player has a total of three Olympic gold medals, as well as an Olympic silver medal. Both players represented France in the 2008, 2012, and 2020 Olympics, where they won gold medals each time. At the 2016 Olympics, the French team also took home a silver medal after a disappointing loss to Denmark. France’s recent dominance in the sport has allowed these players to become the sport’s most decorated Olympians of all time.
What men’s handball player holds the record for most goals scored in an Olympics?
The record for the most handball goals scored in a single Olympic tournament belongs to Mikkel Hansen of Denmark. Hansen set the record at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a whopping 61 goals. The record was previously held by Kyunghshin Yoon of South Korea, who scored 58 goals in the 2004 Olympic Games. This record is another impressive accolade for Hansen, who is on course to go down as one of the greatest players handball has ever seen.
Who is the highest-paid men’s handball player?
The current highest-paid men’s handball player is Nikola Karabatić, who is earning over €1.8 million in salary for the 2023 season playing with PSG Handball. His teammate, Luka Karabatic, is the second-highest-paid handball player earning around €1.5 million from PSG this season. Paris Saint-Germain’s star-studded roster accounts for one of the highest payrolls of any club in the sport. Sander Sagosen of THW Kiel in the Handball-Bundesliga also earns €1.5 million.