Needing to win every remaining game to triumph in its first-ever playoffs series, it is fair to say that FC Bayern Munich is well and truly out of its comfort zone. And that’s just the way head coach Andrea Trinchieri would want it.
The charismatic Italian coach firmly believes that players can only grow and improve by exposing themselves to new and challenging situations, especially during the uncertainties of the current pandemic.
"I really like to not just accept change, but to embrace change."
"Developing new skills should be the trending topic at this moment in the world," he explained. "It’s mandatory! I really like to not just accept change, but to embrace change. And to embrace something that at the beginning looks difficult, something that you might say 'Ah, but I'm not used to this.' Yes, you are not used to this. But what if you get used to this? You can only be better. It’s a win-win. The comfort zone – for players, coaches, in every job – kills talent."
Like all teams in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, Bayern’s roster is a multicultural environment containing a core of native Germans, a sprinkling of Americans and a handful of assorted other nationalities.
And Trinchieri is perfectly placed to understand the best way to successfully blend such a diverse mix because he was directly exposed to lots of different ethnic influences right from birth.
"My grandmother was from Montenegro, and my mother was Croatian. My grandfather was the Italian consul in Boston, my other grandmother was a lady from Kentucky, and my father was born and raised in Massachusetts. So basically I’m a melting-pot!" he said.
"I was born and raised in Italy, but I traveled all over the world to learn and experience new things. I traveled to the US, to Yugoslavia, to England, basically all over the world. Coming from a diplomatic family, they were also in Kuwait, Bahrain, Tunis, so I was lucky to see many different things. One thing that I always remember is the different smells. When you go to the Middle East, you smell spices. When you go to Belgrade you smell the grill, because they are barbecuing the whole season. This opens your eyes and then you look around and see people behave in a different way, they interact in a different way.
"I spent lots of time in different countries and I feel blessed to be like this, because now I’m really armed to go in every country and try to take the best of my experience and to adjust to the country, to the lifestyle, to the people, to the fans. Because in every country they need something different because they are used to something specific. So be adaptable, be flexible, and most important be open – open to changes, open to new cultures, new languages. And I think it’s a very intriguing challenge."
Trinchieri said he believes that his youthful exposure to a variety of cultures has played a major role in his success as a coach, which has seen him win domestic trophies in Italy, Russia, Serbia and Germany, take the 2014 EuroCup coach of the year award with UNICS Kazan and now lead Bayern into the playoffs for the first time in club history.
"I’m really armed to go in every country and try to take the best of my experience and to adjust."
"It’s different when you interact with a young guy from the States or a young guy from Serbia," he explained. "It’s different because their education, their expectations, their traditions are different. So if you are able to be open and know a little bit that there is a difference, it’s an advantage. For sure, it’s 100% an advantage. Being able to interact with people from different countries just shortens the time you need to get into them, to understand them. At the end, a coach has to build bridges, not walls. So if you know who you have in front of you, where he’s coming from, maybe if you’re lucky to know the language, wow... you have a bridge half-built."
That approach means that Trinchieri has always preferred to adapt his ideas and his working habits to the various environments in which he has found himself, rather than attempting to impose the same methods at every club. In Germany with Brose Bamberg and Bayern, for instance, he has found it a little more necessary to push players into uncomfortable situations.
"Every country has pros and cons," he said. "So in Germany, you have unbelievable organization, great discipline, I would say order – everything is in the right place at the right time. But if you flip the coin, the other face is that the comfort zone is there waiting for you. Because you have all the tools, and it’s all about you. It’s not within everybody’s motivation to fight that comfort zone.
"The growth of a player is never linear; you make one step ahead, two steps back, one step to the side..."
"But in the Balkan area, people don’t have much. So they fight every day for a better life, a better future, and their motivation is huge. So maybe there you have to blend a little bit their ferocious motivation, and here in Germany, you have to implement and push them. This is something I’m trying to do, knowing the road is bumpy with a lot of curves, a lot of ups and downs. The growth of a player is never linear; you make one step ahead, two steps back, one step to the side and maybe five steps ahead."
This week presents Trinchieri’s biggest challenge yet with his Bayern team 2-0 down in the playoffs series against AX Armani Exchange Milan and needing to win every remaining game to survive and advance. But he definitely won’t be daunted by the challenge and has a simple message for his team: "Every day I say to my players: it’s zero-zero. Yesterday maybe you had a bad day, your PIR was minus-2. But today you don’t come in with a minus-2. It’s zero-zero, so you have a new opportunity, a new day to do your best. At the same time, if yesterday you had a great day, you don’t come with a plus-3. Again, it’s zero-zero. You have to earn your day."
This week, Trinichieri and his Bayern will be aiming to earn their greatest day yet.