Belfast Telegraph

Boss Josep hopes Barca magic will rub off on Star

By David Kelly

New Belfast Star coach Josep Maria Berracol has arrived with a huge reputation and this weekend will be the first chance for local basketball fans to get a first glimpse of the impact he has already made on the All Ireland league side.

Star are taking part in the Tayto international tournament at La Salle – which features an all-star professional American outfit – on Friday night ahead of their opening fixture in the All Ireland league the following weekend.

Berracol was assistant coach at Barcelona during the eight-year period in which they landed their two EuroBasket titles – the equivalent of the Champions League. In addition, he has been head coach at Dynamo Kiev and Donetsk, working with players on €1m a year contracts.

Little wonder that Star chairman Bill McCotter described securing Berracol as "Jose Mourinho coming to manage the Glens".

Naturally, Berracol expects his side to be pushing hard for silverware but insists the Star fans cannot expect miracles as the Belfast men return to the elite level after two years away.

"I wouldn't say I am like Mourinho, I would say I'm more like Pep Guardiola – and that's not just because I am a Barca fan," said the 43-year-old on the day Star drew Dubliners Killester in the National Cup.

"I don't really worry what people outside think, what they expect. I am just focused on my challenge and what I have to do with my players.

"You can't change everything at a club in five or six months but from the start I have been changing the mentality of the players.

"Before I arrived here I sent an email to every player telling them that being professional does not depend on having a big pay cheque.

"It's about a state of mind and I have already seen a change, they have listened and responded to what I have said and the way I do things.

"When I compare the first night of training to the last night, there is a big, big difference.

"It is too early to say if we have a good chance of winning the league, I will have to see the other teams, but I would say the players have had the hardest pre-season of their lives, without a doubt."

Having worked with some of the best players in Europe, and even the world, taking on Star is quite a different challenge for Berracol, who is here for one year only – and even that could change as he admits to having already had offers to go elsewhere.

He added: "I had three offers from Latin America but after thinking about them I talked with my wife Beth and we decided to come here.

"Of course things can change, last year I was coaching Alicante and then within 48 hours I was off to Ukraine after accepting an offer to go and coach Donestk.

"All I can do is focus on what is in front of me and I do want to finish the project here and see what we can do."

The crucial part to Berracol's arrival was the role played by Star's assistant coach and former Irish captain Adrian Fulton, who has known the 43-year-old for some time.

Berracol added: "I know Adrian and hear from him. He said to me to think about coming here if nothing else worked out and, to be honest, I got to the point where I thought about just having a year's rest from the sport but then I decided to have this new challenge and at the same time I can improve my English. I have settled well into Belfast and I'm looking forward to the season."

Meanwhile, Barcelona have had to pull out of the tournament, which starts on Friday night, due to visa issues with some of their players.

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