He has banned phones during meals, meetings and on bus trips "because players need to talk to each other". He has become a second father to his pupils for almost three decades, in which he has raised nine Euroleague with five different clubs. Demanding on the court, close outside, Zeljko Obradovic (Cacak, Serbia, 58 years old) starts his sixth season at the Turkish Fenerbahce with the Catalan Josep María Izquierdo as assistant and confidant. In love with Spain, his wine, his beer and his tapas, he spends his summers in his house outside of Barcelona. The great winner of European basketball attended EL PAÍS before beating CSKA in a preseason tournament in Zadar.
Question. They are already 27 years sitting on a bench, since he hung up his boots in an airport before the European Rome in 1991.
Answer. Everything happened the night before. I was summoned at the home of Dragan Kicanovic, technical director of Partizan. I went with my godfather Milenko Savovic, who was also a player at the time. He was offered the sports pitch and I was the coach.
P. Did I intuit what was going on?
R. He knew what they were going to offer us … We had gone out to dinner, at that time there were no cell phones. I arrived home at two o'clock and received the call from Savovic telling me that everyone was waiting for me at Kicanovic's house. They wanted him to leave the national team and from the next day he was the coach of Partizan. I asked them to let me play the European Championship, I was the captain of the national team and we knew that we had many options to win gold, as it was. But they said no: "Now we are looking for another solution". I accepted I went back home, I talked to my wife and she thought I was drunk. Within me was this desire to be a coach. I had the chance to play in Germany with a good contract, but I think that in life you have to take risks.
P. Two years later, Spain became his second home.
I understand that there are veteran players who need a day off. But the young player does not
R. The first year we won everything: European Cup, League and Cup of ex-Yugoslavia. Offers came from outside, but I wanted to work one more year with Professor Nikolic. The second year in the Partizan I did not charge anything. Zero. Joventut's offer arrived and I asked Kicanovic: "What do I do?" He replied: "What did you charge this year? What are you going to live? Go, you have to eat. "
P. In his first four years training, he conquered the European Cup with Partizan, Joventut and Real Madrid. Did you not feel overwhelmed by such early success?
R. From the first day I arrived in Badalona they told me that I owed them one for having won the final with Partizan. I tried to change some things; I also adapted. You went to dinner and everyone drank a beer or a glass of wine. In my country this was impossible. It was another culture. In Yugoslavia, when he lost a game, he thought he could not go out, they would say: "Look at this silly trainer, his team has lost". I have changed a lot.
P. In Madrid the anecdote of that festive one in which it granted the free day, but with optional training is famous. And not even the juniors came.
R. I understand that there are veteran players who need a day off. But the young player does not … From the age of 16 to 20 I had three workouts every day. You sleep with the ball, uncle. Now when I grant a free day, I add: "For you young people there is no free day". In the first training, in the Casa de Campo, my players ran around outside a football field. And also three guys of about 50 years and many kilos, who ran faster than my team. Veterans like Arlauckas, Biriukov, Antonio Martín or Antúnez set the pace. And Sabonis with problems with his leg. So I spoke with Paco López, the physical trainer, and I said: "Mr. Sabonis goes to the pool to work and the others to run, but with Isma Santos the first one".
P. You also go out running with Izquierdo several times a week.
R. In this job you need to be in shape. Stress, travel, nerves … I take care of everything I can, especially food and physical activity. At least I run four times a week, about 35 or 40 minutes. Before I did it faster, now a little quieter, about seven minutes a kilometer.
It's not good for basketball to have this crisis in Turkey
P. Starts its sixth season in Istanbul. The political and economic instability in the country has caused the disappearance of several clubs. Are you worried that this crisis may affect Fenerbahce?
R. It is not good for basketball that there is this crisis in Turkey. Our president has guaranteed us the same budget as in recent years. Everyone identifies Fenerbahce as a serious club. Four years in Final Four, three finals, we have earned respect. I laugh at only one thing: when it is said in Spain that the Fenerbahce makes the team based on the checkbook [entrecomilla con los dedos]. Who does not make the equipment based on a checkbook? Does not Real Madrid do it? What is your budget or Barcelona's? And the CSKA? More than Fenerbahce.
P. Listen to your players and maintain a close relationship with them that only you can decipher. Menuda was mounted in January with that cheek that gave Mahmutoglu in full swing.
R. The question is who mounts it. People from outside see different things. The only player who has been with me these six years is Melih Mahmutoglu, we have a more than close relationship. I tried to motivate him and the others. We are normal people, we have emotions. We did not even remember it when we talked at night. This year the Euroleague has decided that they can put the microphones in the dead times. No problem. I am what I am. I can not speak for you and for people who listen to me on TV. It's not theater, I can go and say "well, please, do this …". Do not fuck with me!