A wise man once said that all good things must come to an end. That’s probably the feeling many people went through when Real Madrid and coach Pablo Laso officially decided to part ways after 11 years and many trophies together.
The news took many by surprise, but between the two sides, there had been growing tension for a while. Real Madrid decided that coach Laso, after his heart issues, could not sustain another season as a head coach of the team, despite having another year left on his contract.
Meanwhile, Laso had a different idea, with his own doctors confirming that he would have been able to return to the training immediately. Although health problems have been used as the main reason for Laso’s separation from Real Madrid, it’s not a secret that the relationship between the two sides was deteriorating even before Laso’s heart issues.
Laso and Real Madrid’s director of basketball operations, Juan Carlos Sanchez, did not see things eye to eye, and it was pretty clear in the past few years. There were different views on moving the team forward and which targets to pursue in the market.
In a recent press conference, Laso confirmed these issues with Real’s front office.
“Nobody gets along 100% well with their boss. Nobody does. I’ve always had the feeling that when I was giving my best, they were still doubting me,” the coach confessed.
Now the new era under Chus Mateo has begun. However, Real Madrid is not a new environment for Mateo. He began his coaching career in Real Madrid back in 1997 as a youth coach, while in 1999, he became an assistant, and he remained with Los Blancos until 2004, working with three different head coaches (Sergio Scariolo, Javier Imbroda, and Julio Lamas ).
After several experiences as an assistant coach and head coach elsewhere, Mateo returned to Real Madrid in 2014, starting to work as an assistant coach for Pablo Laso, which he continued to do until a few months ago.
Mateo has already coached the team during the ACB finals, leading Real Madrid to the win in the league against Barcelona.
He handled the situation really well, especially considering what Laso was going through at that moment and after the disappointment of the loss in the EuroLeague final against Anadolu Efes.
Now, Mateo will have the opportunity to work with the team as the head coach from the beginning of the season. A team that was strengthened by multiple additions, including Sergio Rodriguez, Mario Hezonja, Dzanan Musa, and Petr Cornelie.
While working as an assistant coach for Malaga under coach Sergio Scariolo, the Italian head coach described him as ‘the No. 1 of the No. 2s’ to express his belief that Mateo was the best assistant coach possible.
“That is a common conception around Mateo,” a source with knowledge of Real Madrid’s business told BasketNews. “He’s a very well-respected figure, not only in Madrid but all around Spain. He has always been considered probably the best assistant coach not only in Spain but in entire Europe.”
Mateo was also the man who gave Luka Doncic his professional debut with Real Madrid. In April 2015, during a game against Unicaja Malaga, Laso was ejected after complaining to the referees. Mateo took over for the rest of the game and decided to give Luka Doncic his first minutes as a pro with Real Madrid when the Slovenian was only a 16-year-old.
Mateo’s main concern is related to his history as a head coach. In his previous experiences as the head coach, Mateo never really achieved great results. In 2006, he was named head coach of CAI Zaragoza, but he only lasted until January of 2007, when he was fired due to the poor results of the team.
In January of 2011, he became the head coach of Unicaja Malaga, replacing Aito Garcia. He finished the season with good results and started the following season, but he was fired in March of 2012 after a series of poor performances.
His last experience as a head coach in Spain was during the 2013-14 season when he was hired by Fuenlabrada. But even in that case, Mateo didn’t finish the season and was fired in March of 2014.
Mateo’s resume as head coach is not particularly good. But it’s also true that he has never coached a team with so much potential as the current version of Real Madrid.
He knows that environment better than almost everybody else, he started from the youth system and made his way up. It’s fair to assume that it was the smartest decision for Real to go with an internal solution after their decision to part ways with Laso.
For other people consulted by BasketNews, the main issue for coach Mateo may be managing the environment and the locker room.
According to BasketNews sources, during the last season, there were already some tense situations inside that locker room, and at times even Laso struggled in managing those. The positive aspect is that a few players who created most of those issues last season are no longer with the team.
Although Mateo is respected inside the club, another possible obstacle is the fact that some of the players did not like how the situation with Laso was handled.
Many inside and outside the club thought Laso earned the right to decide for his own future. However, the club forced his hand and did not give him a real chance to keep his job.
Still, veterans like Rudy Fernandez are already showing that they’re ready to do everything in their power to help Mateo replicate Laso’s success.
“Chus has a lot of enthusiasm and responsibility because of the legacy that Pablo Laso left behind,” Rudy Fernandez explained in a recent interview. “As veterans of the team, we will try to help him so that the team can be competitive and have the best season possible.”
The arrival of Sergio Rodriguez, another player who knows Real Madrid’s environment like few others, will help improve the situation in the backcourt, which was one of the team’s main issues last season.
Real Madrid are still chasing the dream of convincing Facundo Campazzo to return to Spain. The Argentinian point guard might represent the real surprise of the final weeks of the transfer market.
Campazzo is still exploring the NBA market and prioritizing the possibility of remaining in the United States. Still, if no suitable offers arrive, the idea of returning to Real Madrid won’t be so improbable, multiple sources have told BasketNews.
The work that awaits Chus Mateo will not be easy. Repeating Pablo Laso’s success would be a daunting task for any coach, let alone for someone with his first experience in a big club.
But for someone like Mateo, who is used to letting his work do the talking, it will be the biggest chance of his life to prove that he’s not only ‘the No. 1 of the No. 2s but that he can also be the perfect coach for one of the biggest clubs in the world.