BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Jim McGuinness was introduced to Ronny Deila and spent a couple of hours in his company he was impressed.
Deila’s appointment as the new manager of Celtic last week caused a stir in the football world. The 38-year-old led unfancied Stromsgodset to the Norwegian League title last season, but his stock outside of Norway was relatively unknown.
McGuinness was ahead of the curve. He and Deila had an unlikely ally – former Finn Harps midfielder Fergal Harkin.
Last October, on the night Celtic played Barcelona in the Champions League at Celtic Park, Deila watched from one of the boxes as Cesc Fabregas struck the match-winner in a one-nil win for the Spaniards. Earlier that day, Deila took in the Under-19 game between Celtic and Barcelona. The previous night he watched Manchester City play Bayern Munich.
Ballyliffin native Harkin, who played for Harps and Bohemians, is the Scouting and Recruitment Operations Manager at Manchester City. It was through City’s strong links with Stromsgodset that Harkin met the colourful Deila and on their brief visit to Glasgow McGuinness got an insight into a man who is now his new boss in Scotland.
“I spent an evening with him at a Champions League game,” said McGuinness, employed as a performance consultant with Celtic.
“Fergal had him up and arranged for us to meet. I spent a couple of hours in his company so it’s nice now to already have had that initial introduction.
“He is a very interesting man. He was very interested in what I was doing, in both sports. He is a very focussed and very determined man. He’s very forward thinking and has some really interesting ideas. I knew that he was already highly-rated. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Deila has taken charge of the Hoops on a twelve-month, rolling contract having succeeded Neil Lennon, who confirmed that he had ear-marked the Norwegian as a possible number two when Johan Mjallby announced that he was leaving.
McGuinness is currently on holiday from his position at Celtic, but will return in the coming weeks for pre-season. The Glenties man was recruited in 2012, just after guiding Donegal to All-Ireland glory. Lennon attended Donegal’s final win over Mayo and was present at the subsequent banquet in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel.
Lennon hails from Lurgan and played at minor level for Armagh. Both he and Dermot Desmond, Celtic’s majority shareholder, were impressed by McGuinness’s work with Donegal and offered him a position, based at the club’s Lennoxtown training complex.
The likes of Tony Watt and Dylan McGeouch have worked with McGuinnness, whose role was explained recently by Celtic’s Academy chief Chris McCart, who said: “We brought in Jim McGuinness two seasons ago to see if we could get a stronger mindset into the younger players.
“It is one area we have looked at. Can we develop a stronger mentality within the academy players coming through? At academy level, we also partnered with Positive Coaching Scotland, so we were educating the young players from the age of nine, their parents and the coaches, on mental strength and preparation.
“There is real emphasis now on getting that edge on to the players and, hopefully, that will push them across the line.”
The tasks of helping to develop the young hopefuls into potential stars of the future is something that McGuinness relishes.
Drawing the best out of people is what he has built himself upon, having transformed Donegal’s fortunes.
He said: “I’m working with people who are trying to make it as a professional. If I can contribute in some small way to that it is very rewarding.”
It is a job that brings out the best of McGuinness’s skills and he has thanked Lennon for his assistance since he took up the role.
He said: “I would like to thank Neil Lennon. It was great working with him. It was through Neil that I got the initial opportunity. I’d have gone in on the Monday morning and we’d have talked about who was winning in the Championship, the League and what have you. It was nice to have that connection.”
McGuinness commutes between Glenties and Glasgow, usually via Donegal Airport in Carrickfinn and, while there are those who baulk at his schedule, McGuinness feels enriched by his day job.
Within a professional club set-up at Lennoxtown and Celtic Park, McGuinness feels that he is constantly improving his own lot.
He said: “People who are progressive are always looking for edges and angles. You are learning every day. I’m working alongside people who are always improving and developing. If you are open to it, you will pick up things.
“I’m in a professional environment, but what I’m also in is a winning environment. That’s just the way it is in the club. I enjoy it very much. That sort of environment is a great place to be. It’s where people can thrive. That winning environment is the basis of the club really.”