How a small province in northern Spain is producing Europe’s top coaches

In an increasingly globalised sport, a small province with a population of 725,000 shines. Gipuzkoa is the smallest province of Spain and its capital city is Donostia-San Sebastián. Andoni Iraola, Unai Emery, Julen Lopetegui, Mikel Arteta and Xabi Alonso are some of the coaches who are among football’s elite and they all have something in common: they all come from Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country. It is also where Jagoba Arrasate, who is having a historic season with Osasuna after coming through the Real Sociedad youth academy, learned his trade.

The six coaches are at the top of the game and one man who knows a thing or two about them is Mikel Etxarri. Etxarri is an institution in Basque football – a point of reference for many top-level coaches and a great tactics teacher who has passed on his knowledge through different bodies such as the Gipuzkoa Federation, Kirolene, a public sports teaching centre in the Basque Country, and the Spanish FA.

Spanish news outlet Relevo ask Etxarri how this has occurred.

“I always say the same thing, you have to be careful not to disparage other areas or provinces when you want to praise Gipuzkoa or the Basque Country,” Etxarri explains.

“But I do usually explain that the Basque Country has a way of structuring itself on the basis of teamwork led by a manager. There are similarities with a football team,” he explains, before emphasising a word which in his opinion is key: effort.

“In the Basque Country we have many sports directly related to work, such as lifting or dragging stones, and effort has always been related to sport,” he adds.

The importance of work

Real Sociedad head coach Imanol Alguacil agrees with him, and has stressed that the only formula for his professional development has been “to be clear that it was a consequence of work”.

Etxarri didn’t expect Alguacil to become a coach. “I didn’t expect him to be a coach. He was very introverted, although he was also very methodical and hard-working – a bit like he still is now – but I didn’t see him in the dugout at all. We met again on the way to Madrid for the UEFA PRO licence and he still had the same humility as when he was a player. And he still has it today, despite everything he is achieving with La Real, which is very commendable.

“The one I could imagine on the bench was Unai Emery, not only because of his communication skills, but also because he has such a strong personality. Although he didn’t win the title in Gipuzkoa, he has always had a rebellious streak.”

Top coaches in La Liga and the Premier League

Alguacil and Arrasate are two of the best coaches in Spanish football. Iraola’s Rayo Vallecano side are in the European places and he has been linked with the Leeds United job. Xabi Alonso, still a young coach himself, is working at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.

Julen Lopetegui is now at Wolves, and has coached Real Madrid and Sevilla, two of the biggest clubs in Spain. Mikel Arteta is impressing in London, with his Arsenal team challenging for the Premier League title. They are certainly doing something right in Gipuzkoa.

Kieran Quaile | GSFN

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