Obradovic’s Fenerbahçe Ülker eyes historic success
AA PhotoFenerbahçe Ülker will be out to make history when Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four tips off in Madrid May 15.
The Istanbul club aims to become the first Turkish club to clinch the Final Four title, but a tough first game awaits the team against Real Madrid, who has the advantage of playing in front of its home crowd.
In addition to its strong squad, hungry for the silverware, Fenerbahçe Ülker’s biggest gun will be coach Zeljko Obradovic, who steered the Spanish club to its last Euroleague trophy two decades ago.
The 55-year old Serb, who has won a record eight titles in the premier club competition with four different clubs and will be in his 14th Final Four, also mentored Real’s present coach Pablo Laso when the Spanish giant won the second-tier Saporta Cup in 1997.
Known for nurturing a free-flowing attacking game relying on flair and talent, Laso pointed out he had no qualms applying a different strategy after last year’s shock defeat by Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final.
“If we win the Euroleague in an ugly game, I would be as happy as if we won it in a great match,” the 47-year old from the Basque city of Vitoria told the competition’s official website.
“Fenerbahçe is a talented team, hard to match up against and able to change its rhythm. I have a lot of respect for [Obradovic], I learnt a lot from him in the two years that I spent with him.”
Heavy investment by sponsor Ülker paid off in the Istanbul club’s second season under the iron-fisted Obradovic, who brushed aside Maccabi 3-0 in a best-of-five quarter-final.
Having won five of his eight Euroleague titles with Panathinaikos, the former Yugoslavia playmaker will rely heavily on the prowess of fellow Serbs Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica.
Obradovic said hosting the Final Four is a sword which cuts both ways, although he acknowledged Real’s experience could be a telling factor.
“If you win, everybody will say it was an obvious advantage and if you lose, they will say it was the pressure.
“But they will do everything to beat us and then win the competition, but we must go there thinking we have a chance.”
Fenerbahçe Ülker is the only team in the 2015 Final Four that has never won the title, and only the second Turkish club to make it to the showpiece event, following Efes Pilsen’s successes in 2000 and 2011, finishing third in both occasions, but experienced coach Obradovic intends to see the Real game as nothing more than a regular one.
“You know, it is the Euroleague semifinal, but it is a game, a game of basketball. Nothing different,” Obradovic said.
“I will try to prepare like before every game, whether in the Euroleague or Turkish championship, and try to make them understand that we are a team that, until now, has showed that we have character, that we beat all the big teams in the Euroleague this year... So, we must go there thinking we have a chance. Even though we play against Real Madrid, who, everybody agrees, is the big favorite this year, to not just play in the final, but to take the title.”
Obradovic is the only coach to have led four different clubs to the title and is the first to place six different ones in the Final Four. Each of Obradovic’s teams reached the Final Four in either his first or second season on its bench.
Where Obradovic goes, success is sure to follow, and the two games this weekend will decide whether Fenerbahçe Ülker and Turkey will be the latest beneficiaries of the legendary coach’s expertise.