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Jim McGuinness lands coup with appointment of ex-Athletic Bilbao coach as assistant

The ex-Donegal boss also gives his opinion on Marcelo Bielsa and Spygate.

Jim McGuinness makes his football managerial bow with USL side Charlotte Independence in March.
Jim McGuinness makes his football managerial bow with USL side Charlotte Independence in March.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Jan 16th 2019, 7:08 PM

JIM MCGUINNESS’ FLEDGLING football management career with USL club Charlotte Independence has started on a positive note with the appointment of Spaniard Felix Sarriugarte as his assistant coach. 

Sarriugarte played 68 times across a five-year spell with Athletic Bilbao, and also went on to represent Real Oviedo and Las Palmas.

He began ascending the coaching ranks at Bilbao in 2000, first taking charge of youth teams before progressing to the ‘B’ team in 2005. He took charge of the first-team in 2006 following the dismissal of Javier Clemente, but was relieved of his duties five months later with the club in La Liga’s relegation zone. 

He later had two stints in charge of Spanish club Sestao, either side of a season in charge of Oviedo in the Spanish third tier. 

Confirming the appointment to The42, McGuinness says he is fortunate to be able to draw on Sarriugarte’s experience. 

I’m very fortunate to get Felix. It’s great for me. He’s ten years my senior too, so he has been there and done that. He is the type of person, football-wise as well as in every other respect, that will be a big strength for me both on a personal level as well as a professional level. 

The pair met years ago at a coaching conference in Bilbao and share a deep interest in psychology, with Sarriugarte recently completing a masters’ in the subject. 

McGuinness was officially welcomed to Charlotte today by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall, and his immediate duty is to assemble a squad ahead of the opening USL game on 15 March.

image003 Jim McGuinness is welcomed to Charlotte by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall

“We currently have ten or 11 players in the squad”, says McGuinness. “We are looking to add to that in the coming days. It’s about working through the tapes of all the possible targets out there and identifying who would be a good fit for us in terms of the technical and physical aspects of things”. 

Most of his potential recruits will be those who failed to make the grade at MLS clubs for the season ahead. McGuinness’ Charlotte Independence are in the second tier, and there is no avenue to the MLS through promotion.

Having previously worked with Celtic and Roger Schmidt’s assistant with Beijing Guoan, this is McGuinness’ first solo job in football. The pressures ahead of the opening game, however, are familiar. 

To be honest, it’s the same as when I was at home in Donegal. You have those same apprehensions: you want to get everything right and you want to get in to meet the players and start selling the vision and philosophy.

“I’m currently looking for players who will fit the philosophy. For me, that’s an exciting part of the job. Coming from Gaelic games, you have who you have available in your county, so it’s exciting to be trawling the tapes of all of the players out there”. 

Elsewhere, McGuinness gave his opinion on ‘Spygate’, in which a Leeds United employee was caught furtively watching Derby County training ahead of the sides’ Championship clash. 

He is uniquely placed to discuss it, given that the build-up to the 2014 All-Ireland final between Donegal and Kerry featured a tale of a Donegal man – unaffiliated with McGuinness’ team – being found in a tree overlooking Kerry training.

I know it goes on. At Celtic, the whole area was meshed off for those reasons. It goes on and it goes on in every sport. I had several incidents in Donegal of people turning up at training claiming to be from Donegal – wearing Donegal jerseys – only for a different accent to give them away. 

“It’s about squeezing out percentages. At the end of the day, everyone is trying to get as much analysis as they can.

“I would suggest that it is more common in Gaelic football at the highest level, I think the top teams who think they can win the championship are more proactive in looking for an edge.

“I don’t think that it is as prevalent in football, but it definitely goes on”. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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