A Spaniard in Munich
Sun, 01/10/23, 15:25
Laso, not Lasso: "We have the same vision"
"You can congratulate me; that was my first BBL victory!" Pablo Laso was already relieved when the big premiere show, complete with a glass floor spectacle and various debuts, successfully concluded at the BMW Park on Friday night. With 22 titles at Real Madrid and a successful career of his own, he may have already experienced it all. However, the adventure in Munich, Germany, remains a journey into the unknown for the soon-to-be 56-year-old basketball coach from the Spanish Basque Country.
On Sunday, they head to Oldenburg, where FCBB will play on Monday (8:00 PM, DYN). A conversation with "51," where he seems quite relaxed despite the high expectations.
Coach Laso, apologies for this first question, but how often do people talk to you about the "Ted Lasso" streaming series?
(laughs) I do get asked about it quite often, and everyone tells me how great that series is. I haven't watched it yet, but I'll catch up on it when we're on the road a lot soon.
The series is about a coach who helps his players become the best version of themselves and not just win games...
That's what defines a coach: being someone who can bring out the best in the players. Like a father who wants to help his sons become better. A coach tries to do the same, and on top of that, there's the pressure to win games because that's what fans and the media expect from him.
"Everything for the win? That's shortsighted."
You've spoken about the "tyranny of results" and said you don't believe in it. What did you mean by that?
I definitely want to win every game. But we all know it's impossible. In Madrid, there were times when we won, and I wasn't satisfied because I felt we could have done better, and sometimes we didn't win, but I was still very satisfied. Results are very important; they are a part of our lives. However, I consider it shortsighted to think that victories are the most important thing. Rather, I want to mold my players so that I can say: We may not have won every trophy, and yet the time we spent together was a gain.
But most of the time, you won in Madrid, with a proud 22 titles. Would you think differently if your collection of titles weren't so large?
(smiles) Of course, it's easier to continue working quietly on my ideas as long as I'm winning. But my goal here is not just to win the next game. I want to help the team. For me, winning is a part of the overall process.
You had a heart attack last year. Are you ready for the big task in Munich?
I never felt like it was a matter of life or death. I woke up in the middle of the night, didn't feel well, went to the bathroom, came back, and went back to sleep. The next morning, my wife asked me to get myself checked. That's when I found out what was happening. The heart attack occurred on a Saturday evening, and on Sunday and Monday, I was in the clinic for tests. After that, I told my doctor that I probably needed to make some significant changes in my life. He simply said, 'Pablo, do whatever you want, you're healthier now than you were last Friday.' The whole experience helped me see things differently, but I'm doing well, and I feel top fit.
Suddenly, you were out of the basketball routine...
Honestly, it was quite strange at the beginning. I've been playing basketball and coaching since I was 16. And suddenly, I didn't have to prepare for a game. I watched a lot of basketball on TV and think I now have a new perspective on the sport.
"German basketball is on the rise"
And then you decided to come to Munich. Why?
I've known Marko Pesic and his whole family for decades, and we have a very good relationship. From the first day I talked to him about Bayern, I felt like we had the same vision. Also, it seems like the ideal moment: German basketball is on the rise, not only because of the World Cup win but also because the league has improved significantly. It was as if something inside me said that I was making the right choice.
A few years ago, the World Cup seemed impossible for Germany. What do you think led to this unique opportunity?
The Germans have fantastic players who have gone through tremendous development. In addition, Gordon Herbert has put together a perfect mix. The Germans had the patience required to win the World Cup. Last year, they lost to Spain in the semifinals of the European Championship, a strong game they could have won. But nobody panicked. They waited and knew they were now competitive.
How important is patience in professional sports?
Patience is the most important thing you must have, but it's the most challenging thing to obtain. And let me explain why: we professionals have one, two, three games every week, and everyone will judge you based on whether you win or lose. But if you want to build something, it takes time. The German basketball team has shown that patience leads to success.
How do you plan to bring the new energy your three world champions bring to your team?
Shortly after winning the title, Andi Obst said he really wanted to come to Munich and train with me. But he needed a few days off. When the guys enjoy and internalize their success, it helps me a lot more than if I had them for a few training sessions earlier. Andi, Niels, and Isaac are coming with all their energy. Everyone here in Munich was happy that they won. That's what defines a team when teammates are happy about each other's success.
Are the expectations for the team higher now with three world champions?
Expectations must always be high at FC Bayern. We want to be competitive from day one. We want to be angry when we lose and happy when we win. At the same time, we also need the right perspective for the future. And that's something you have to work on day by day. My goal is to have a team where everyone feels that giving their best every day is essential.
"It doesn't matter what you did before."
You wrote a book about winning, which is a bestseller in Spain. Do the players need to read it?
No, forget it. I'm not the type of person who relies too much on the past. I try to think ahead. Let me share a little secret as an example: In the Spanish League, if you make 1,500 assists, you receive a gift. I achieved that as a player. However, I have no idea what it is or what it looks like. It's probably with my mother in Vitoria, my Basque hometown. If I hold onto what I've done, I won't get a pass forward. If I were to tell my players, 'Hey, I'm Pablo Laso, the guy who won everything with Real Madrid,' what response do you think I would get? 'Okay, cool, but we are Bayern Munich. We want to win tomorrow. We don't care about what you did before.'
You were the coach of Real Madrid for eleven years. How important is it for you to identify with the club or to remain loyal to the team for a long time?
Identity is very important for everyone, for the coach, the players, and the fans. It forms the foundation of the club and is at the core of the team. When you become part of this core, it's harder for outsiders to harm you. Bayern Munich has this. If you ask a child in South America who wins the Champions League, they will name five or six names, and Bayern will be among them. How do you achieve that? Identity! It was clear to me right away that I was coming to an exceptional club.
Why is there often a lack of continuity in basketball, and why does it work at FC Bayern?
When you come here, you often hear that people feel committed to this club. This is indeed an important aspect at Bayern. It implies a deeper connection than just seeking personal benefits. Players like Vladimir Lucic embody this commitment; he has been with Bayern for seven years and has become a flagship figure. My goal is to cultivate this commitment within the team.
The often-quoted FC Bayern family, which also includes your friend Xabi Alonso, who is currently successful with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Xabi and I both come from the Basque Country and have known each other for a long time. When you talk to him, you can tell that he will become a very successful coach. The way he continues to develop speaks volumes about him: he had already achieved everything as a player, was a World Cup winner and Champions League winner, and then he wanted to leave Real and come to Bayern to learn from Pep Guardiola. This guy loves football; he's a wonderful person.
How did you view FC Bayern from Madrid?
I always knew that FC Bayern would also strive to become an international brand in basketball. To achieve that, we also need a history. That's probably one of the reasons why I'm so excited to be here: I want to be part of this club that constantly wants to grow.
For Real fans, 'la Bestia Negra' is the nickname for FC Bayern...
No one in Spain wants to play against Bayern Munich. We want to achieve that in basketball too. For me, this fact is even more important than winning in the end: someone recognizes that we are very competitive. It should be tough to play against us. We want to convey the philosophy that we make other teams afraid. They should say, 'Okay, we're playing against Bayern Munich; that's going to be tough.' We want to be a 'Bestia Negra' not just for one team but for all of Europe.
The interview is available in print in the current issue of the FCB members' magazine '51'."
Header image credit: Jonas Nefzger