Jim McGuinness happy to go outside his comfort zone in US
Former Donegal manager looking forward to new challenge with Charlotte Independence
Former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness is the new coach of Charlotte Independence. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Taking on a fledgling franchise in the second tier of the US soccer league may not represent the boldest of moves for Jim McGuinness, only six years on from managing Donegal to the All-Ireland football title it’s exactly where he wants and needs to be.
Speaking ahead of his official unveiling as Charlotte Independence head coach in North Carolina later on Tuesday, McGuinness outlined the main reasons for his latest departure – or rather continuation of his soccer aspirations which begin at Glasgow Celtic just six months after leaving Donegal in 2014, and continued with Beijing Sinobo Guoan FC in the Chinese Super League until earlier this year.
“When this one came in, it was sort of slightly different, and I felt ticked more boxes for myself,” McGuinness says of the role at Charlotte, which began through conversation with another US team, Colorado Rapids, run by Meath native Pádraig Smith.
“There was a part of it as well, I think it would have been easier to walk into a dressing-room in Ireland, everybody to know who you were and how you operate. So to go out of Ireland, to a different country and work with players from different cultures in a league that’s spread out – it’s almost like international travel in many respects for some of the games – a lot of those things I think will benefit me longer term if I continue to develop and continue to move forward.
“If my mother had anything to do with it I’d be in Donegal. She kept saying to me, ‘Well what about the Dundalk job? What about this job, and that job?’ And when I came in for the conference with the FAI she was hoping it would be the under-21s job. Anything to get you home type of thing and to get the grandkids closer to home.
“But I think it’s just a professional decision that this is where I see myself at and this is the challenges that the job will bring and the potential to move forward and develop as a club and to move up.”
Also known as The Jacks, Charlotte play in the United Soccer League championship (USL), the second tier of football in the country, one below the MLS. Founded only four years ago, Charlotte already have ambitious plans in place, moving to larger stadium in downtown Charlotte by 2022; they are currently located around 15 miles outside the city at the Sportsplex in Matthews where they have a 2,300-seater stadium.
League of Ireland
Part of the attraction, he says, was this sense of it being so different: “I was linked with a few jobs in Ireland, and I did get one or two offers in Ireland – in League of Ireland and in the First Division I probably wouldn’t want to go into the detail of the clubs and stuff to be fair to them, because I don’t know in terms of confidentiality around that. I was very grateful.
“But there’s nothing wrong with being out of your comfort zone, like, and that’s one of my main things with players on a daily basis, it’s pushing them outside that comfort zone because I think you’re either going forward or you’re going back.”
McGuinness accepts there is a risk, some people in the GAA community might well like to see him fail: “I’m sure there is, and I’m sure there’s every bit as many wishing me well. That’s been the way anyway. When I was manager of Donegal there was a polarised opinion anyway, so it’s not something that’s new. Everybody has an opinion, I totally respect that, and I never had a problem with that.
“When I get into this job here now, I’m not going to thinking of what people are saying. I’m going to be thinking about what we were speaking about a second ago, where we are at, where we want to get to, what’s involved in the process, do they know it, are we sure they know it, and then can they actually execute it, and how does that work out.
“The World Cup is coming as well (US/Canada/Mexico in 2026), so I think it will be a good time to be out there, an exciting time, and for me a good place to cut my teeth as a manager.”