In a surprise announcement that has shocked the world of basketball, Ettore Messina has quit as coach of Real Madrid.
The Italian announced his decision on Friday, the morning after a previously unbeaten Top 16 Euroleague series ended with a 77-95 home loss to Montepaschi Siena. Both teams were qualified for the elite-eight playoffs and Madrid had already clinched first place in their group, so the game was essentially meaningless.
But obviously not for Messina, who joined Madrid two summers ago with the aim of winning a trophy for the club that holds the most European club titles, but which hasn't won any since 1995. The tactician has left just three wins shy of an appearance at the Euroleague Final Four.
Messina arrived in Madrid from CSKA Moscow, where he won Euroleague titles in 2006 and 2008, as well as four Russian titles. He had previously won two Euroleague trophies with Kinder Bologna in his native Italy, in 1998 and 2001. Messina was replaced by his long-time assistant coach, Emanuele Molin, who will take over the job of leading Madrid into the best-of-five European playoffs against Power Electronics Valencia starting on March 22. Spain's Caja Laboral and Barcelona have also reached the same stage of the competition.
Messina told journalists at a press conference on Saturday that he made his decision while Madrid were being blown out at home by Siena on Thursday. "I had thought about it in recent weeks but clearly during the game against Montepaschi, I made my decision. This is the first time it's happened in my career," Messina said.
The team had already locked up first place in Group G ahead of Montepaschi, but the loss followed domestic ACB defeats at Power Electronics Valencia, which it must now defeat to advance in Europe, and Blancos Rueda de Valladolid.
Messina said that a change would help for all concerned, and that he was disappointed with the side's performance. Both were disappointed with having lost the Spanish King's Cup final at home last month to archrival Regal FC Barcelona. As it has done on the soccer field, Barcelona has dominated the domestic basketball league in the past few seasons. But in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Madrid had its best Top 16 finish ever, 5-1, tying its record of two seasons ago.
"It has been a difficult spell. We have been inconsistent in our results. Better to leave when things are good," said Messina.
"After the team reached the last 16 of the Euroleague, the team stopped playing," Messina continued. "When you are fighting for them and for the work done, you expect the players to understand and take a step forward. I just hope what is happening will give the team a sense of maturity and a sense of responsibility that it is lacking to become a top team. I am convinced that the team can make the Final Four."
Now Molin has the biggest opportunity of his career stepping out from Messina's shadow to lead one of the giants of Spain. "The new coach is capable of doing great things," Messina said, adding: "He is a friend besides being a great coach."
Messina had made it clear in his opening remarks at Saturday morning's press conference that he was thankful for the chance to coach in Madrid. "It's normal and right to thank the club for allowing me this opportunity. It has been a very interesting 18 months, with many important experiences. I wish the best for the team for the future." The Italian was also careful to leave the door open for a return to Madrid. "Perhaps one day I will return to coach here," he said.