Zidane. Raul. Roberto Carlos. Galacticos of football that sent Real Madrid into the stratosphere when they acquired what was then a record ninth Champions League title with victory over Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2002.

To Jose Maria Buceta, raised to worship the idols of the Bernabeu since before he could walk, these were not just magicians but also men whose minds could be bent into even stronger shapes.

Where then-manager Vicente Del Bosque dictated training and dispensed tactics, he entrusted Real’s in-house psychologist with instilling calmness and confidence to let talents bloom to the full.

“At the end of the day, they are human beings,” the university professor turned sporting sage reveals. “That is the key of psychology. You can be a top star in football or basketball or theatre or journalism or whatever.

“But at the end we’re all people with emotions, thoughts, feelings and the role of the sports psychologist is to understand those and how they interact. Generally, the more professional the athlete is, the easier he or she is to work with. They understand more about what makes them tick.”

Latterly, Buceta has been whispering his mantra of self-betterment into the ears of Great Britain’s women basketballers.

Hired last month as their new head coach for his expertise on and off the court after ending his prolonged association with his hometown, he will take charge for the second time on Wednesday when Italy visit Manchester in the EuroBasket qualifiers.

Having finished woeful and winless in last summer’s tournament in Hungary, restoring belief was but one challenge awaiting when the squad gathered seven days ago. “But you find people who need more, who need less, who are more in their comfort zone,” he affirms.

“The difference is in football, you know the media is there, the pressure is there. Image is important because the public sees everything you do. If you’re an archer, no-one knows you. You don’t have some of those pressures. But you still want to succeed.”

Zidane was relentlessly driven but without an obvious ego, individually magnificent but still subservient to the team. With five players rather than eleven, basketball is even more reliant on cogs fitting into a machine despite the singular brilliance of stars like Michael Jordan.

Unifying an international side adds an extra layer of predicaments, Buceta – who coached Spain to fifth place at its home Olympics in 1992 – attests. With basketball opting to mirror football by inserting qualifiers into mid-season, the time to prep has been drastically curtailed.

It has been vital to set immediate priorities, to establish a philosophy that can deliver both quick and prolonged gains, especially amid an offensive shift from his predecessor Peter Buckle.

Such mantras come up often in his regular job as a corporate advisor, encouraging businesses and executives to set gold medal targets for themselves. From the boardroom to the locker room, there is a commonality of purpose that separates those who want to extend themselves from those content to remain within their comfort zone.

No matter the age or the level, there are buttons to find and then push.

“If you coach a school team, you still have to think about the psychological side and the tactical side,” he says. “But of course, when you talk about elite basketball, tactics are important. If you teach kids in schools, it’s about skills and tactics come later. But the psychological aspects are always there.

“At a lower level, you have to preach the motivation to come every day and practice. The club season is very long. So when people come to the international team, they are already motivated and self-confident. They want to succeed, they want to achieve they want to perform. But there’s pressure there that you need to overcome.

“In recent years, I was helping FIBA to prepare their top referees for EuroBasket but I find athletes interesting. You have a high level but how move up that little bit more, which can often make the difference. It’s about skills but also about the mind.”

Buceta has spent time with his younger call-ups

Buceta has spent time with his younger call-ups

He will ask extra of Britain’s players following a 78-64 loss to Montenegro last Saturday that already requires ground to be made up. Denied funding by UK Sport following a post-London 2012 malaise, British Basketball desperately needs to reach the finals in the Czech Republic in 18 months time to replenish its stock.

Coming back to Manchester, where he was once a student, will have special resonance. It was here that much of his thinking was crystallised, about basketball and about life.

“I left Manchester in 1983 and then came back in 1991 when I coached Spain at the World Student Games in Sheffield when I visited my old friends,” Buceta recounts. “I’ve not been since but I will see if they recognise me after 30 years. When you get older, you think they’ll not know who I am.

“I have to go to The Church, which was my old local pub.” It may be a swift half and out. “We won’t have much time. We have to concentrate on Italy. We only have two days after Montenegro to prepare. But it will be nice to be there again.”

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