Building a new team after 7 years under Coach Obradovic?
No one can describe this job better than Maurizio Gherardini, confirmed as the GM of Fenerbahçe and able to manage a situation that was quite difficult, especially in a world dealing with the crisis fo the pandemic.
We talked with Maurizio while he was on the mountains over Bulo, where the team is practicing in the huge facility of the club.
– Maurizio, where do we start from? Maybe from losing 8 players, many of them so important in a team that was outstanding in the last years, in Euroleague as well as in the Turkish competitions? Which were the basis of this re-building?
«First of all it is important to say it wasn’t easy to end the Zeljko era as well as not going on with a lot of players who made history of this club. 5 consecutive Final 4 (only Covid-19 suspended the streak…), 3 Finals, 1 Euroleague title and so many trophies in Turkey. It’s incredible how these guys put a mark in the growth of Fenerbahçe».
– Igor Kokoskov is an outstanding Coach with a longlasting US experience: what about the idea of signing him and how important was Bogdanovic in presenting him Fenerbahçe coaching job as a great opportunity?
«It was not easy to finalize the deal but he showed from the beginning a strong interest in our offer. It was a long negotiation and we shared so many video calls since we couldn’t meet due to the pandemic. Igor was preparing for the “bubble” in Orlando with the Kings. At the end it was so important his signing because he has so many connections with Obradovic, being his assistant with the national team in the late ’90s before starting his long stint in the USA. He grew up in Partizan school, Balkan style and this facts, together with his link with Zeljko made him our first choice from the beginning. I thought NBA was his priority but maybe we were so attractive and convincing… We fixed with him our goals, on the court as well as about our organization. About Bogdanovic, well, I can tell you that the serbian community in Sacramento has so many links with Fenerbahçe. Bogdan, Bieljca and Stojakovic, whom I’ve bene knowing since a very long time. Then Kokoskov made some visit to our organization in the past, so that he already knew something about our club».
– You talked about the goals: which are the main ones? Did you focus on something particular?
«We wanted to bring in more athleticism and improve some defensive features.Then we were looking for versatile players, at least able to play two different spots on the court. But the most important was that we wanted players really hungry, guys that wanted to show they can play at the highest level in Euroleague. That’s the feeling after the first week of practising. Our motto is definitely “HUMBLE AND HUNGRY”».
– I’d say he is the only Coach that can manage the substitution of a legend like Zoc. Any european coach would have suffered a lot of pressure in a job that was all about the best coach in European history. Was that a factoring your mind while thinking of him?
«This is definitely an important factor, it’s correct you underline it».
– A team with Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely cannot be considered an underdog. You have a global experience of 58 seasons and 1298 games in Euroleague, but 16 among those seasons and 415 games are coming from these two guys. Is that correct saying that they will have a strong leadership of the team?
«It’s clear we have two superstars very humble, hard working guys definitely open to lead the way. Nando is a example, he is always the first arriving at the gym and the last one to leave our facilities. Jan is ready to be the leader he’s always been and I’m happy to see how he started the season from a health and physical point of view».
– Going back to the situation of the club, there’s a budget reduction and a new staff: is this part of a medium-long term program to bring back the team to the highest stage of Euroleague?
«Budget reduction is clear, it’s something we had to deal with while building the new roster. We could build a team with most of the deals at least two-years ones, trying to give some possible business continuity. Then we want to improve some aspects of our job: medical rehab as well as scouting and organization of the daily work of our staff. We’d love to create a real self-sustainability opportunity of out of this pandemic crisis».
– The new season could start without fans, or at least with limited access for them. I’m thinking of Fenerbahçe, Red Star, Panathinaikos, Zalgiris and Maccabi as the teams that could suffer the biggest damage from the absence of the spectators, since your fans are so hot and passionate…
«We’d definitely lose our sixth man, our fans are so important… But you know, this is the situation, this is not depending on us. And more, it will be a great loss in terms of ticketing, because that’s an amount of money that could be a further problem for all these clubs. It’s basicly important to do whatever possible to reduce this losses».
– What’s your opinion about so many transfers of players that were not so limited, as numbers as well as on salaries? It looks so different from what was said in the first months of the pandemic, when almost everybody was talking about reduction of budget and consequently of the players’ salaries…
«Obviously there are some clubs that had no problems in spending money, then some other clubs reduced introducing a kind of salary-cap, as Pana did, and this can be something new and positive. Any team had to face its own situation and did what was possible but at the end of the day there was not the big reduction of salaries that was anticipated in the first months of the pandemic. Someone said this is because some deal was closed before the season was suspended, but so many contracts were signed later».
– As an italian talking to an italian I can’t but ask you an opinion about the new Olimpia Milano, built with a massive number of great new players and so ambitious at the beginning of the season. Which goal do you imagine for the “red shoes”?
«They are a great team, they have everything: experience, talent and size, with so many options. They are built to win now and Ettore Messina is now dealing with his first real team, since last year he had to work with so many situations that were heritage of the previous management. He is so charismatic and has a natural leadership. Players who knows how to win, a coach who is a natural winner: I’m expecting Olimpia Milano as a top team this season»
– Well, Maurizio, as a result from this conversation I feel like this new Fenerbahçe has everything to build something important. From a total consciousness to the great sense of challenge. No promises but a total commitment to give whatever it takes to fight against any kind of opponent…
«This is the way for us and the message we want to send to all our environment and the fans. As I told you, “HUMBLE AND HUNGRY”: it’s all about that and our sense of challenge. We have to be positive and realistic, knowing we have to stay down to earth and ready to give everything. The court will then show who we are, but I’m pretty sure that it will not be easy against our team».
So, “humble and hungry”: this is the big challenge of Maurizio Gherardini, a basketball manager entering his 40th season in the business. He is is simply an italian excellence, the best one, working for a club that is definitely a Turkish Airlines Euroleague excellence. Can’t wait to see those guys on the hardwood.