RC Deportivo La Coruña have cemented their place among the European elite during a wonderful season which sees them currently bidding for a fantastic "treble".
Copa del Rey in the bag
On the domestic front, they have already captured Spain's Copa del Rey - overcoming mighty Real Madrid CF to do so - and are still well in contention for the Spanish league title.
On the European scene, Deportivo have stormed into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, creating plenty of headaches for English clubs along the way. They did a first group-stage "double" over Manchester United FC, and recently stunned Arsenal FC in the second group stage with a fine 2-0 win in London.
The architect of Deportivo's wonderful run is 53-year-old Basque coach Javier Irureta. A skilful midfield player with Athletic Club Bilbao and Club Atlético de Madrid, and a six-times Spanish international, Irureta won his coaching spurs with Real Oviedo, who finished fourth in the Spanish top flight under his leadership in 1990. Following further coaching spells with Racing Santander, Bilbao, Real Sociedad and RC Celta de Vigo, Irureta moved to La Coruña and took them to a first-ever Spanish title in 1999/00.
Now, Irureta has European glory on his agenda. This week, Deportivo come face-to-face again with Manchester United in an eagerly-awaited Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash - and on the eve of the game, Irureta told uefa.com about the coaching philosophies which have brought him success.
uefa.com: Becoming a coach - was this a logical progression for you?
Javier Irureta: Well, when I retired as a player due to injury, it was almost by chance that I became a coach. I imagined my life going other ways. I was an engineer, and I thought that my life would be in that profession. But very soon, I understood that I needed football, so some months later, my studies to become a coach began in Bilbao. One thing led to another, the snowball grew, I arrived in the Primera División, and it is now 18 years since I obtained my coaching licence.
uefa.com: Is football a drug? Could you see yourself existing without football?
JI: Yes, football is some kind of drug for me. I am a coach 12 months and 365 days a year. Nevertheless, I only think about arriving at the following month. Football is something that changes so fast that my only worry is arriving at the end of the month. Throughout all of my football career, I have thought month to month.
uefa.com: Who are your role models or influences as a coach?
JI: The experienced Spanish coach Luis Aragones showed me how to make the transition from being a player to a coach. Luis is a coach in every sense - in his job as a coach, he uses all the things he learned as a player. I learned from him how a player can become a coach. Furthermore, [Sir] Alex Ferguson is a very respected coach. I like his instinct, and the intuition that he gives to players. Fabio Capello is well-known for being serious with the players and also about his job. He is very professional. As for Johann Cruyff, I like his way of being.
uefa.com: Do you have any fixed tactical principles? How flexible are you as a coach?
JI: I do not have any fixed tactics. I am very flexible. I also play according to the condition of my players and my team. I adapt the system every time, depending upon the circumstances. For me, there is no one good system, but it is the players who ensure that a particular system is good.
uefa.com: Watching your team's recent brilliant display against Arsenal, you look as if you enjoy the challenge of plotting tactical strategies to out-think your opposing colleagues....
JI: Yes, sometimes, a match is a battle against the other coach, the other team. I want to know the personality of the other team coach. I want to know how he plays, why he takes certain decisions. I analyse the last matches of the teams that we are playing against. I play my own match, I analyse everything, to explain to my players how we should play, where the opposition's danger will come from, and how we should attack.
uefa.com: How big a role do you play in transfers at your club?
JI: Well, I am limited, because we do not have as much money as other clubs. I give my point of view to the club. In exceptional cases, the club has signed players without my opinion, but I am always free to give my point of view.
uefa.com: How should a coach manage a large squad of players, especially in terms of psychology? Is this a very difficult aspect of a coach's job? How do you motivate players who are not in the first team?
JI: Morale, dialogue, work - you must show the players that the team is above the players. However, all the players know that I am always helping them, giving morale and energy, and creating a positive environment.
uefa.com: Can managing millionaire superstars be intimidating for a coach? How does a coach deal with superstars?
JI: The superstars must understand that the whole team must function. Apart from the stars, the team is the one thing that must work well. The stars cannot create problems. The team cannot play for the stars, but the stars must play for the team. The team is above the stars. You must talk with them, and if they do not understand, then you must take certain decisions, such as leaving them out of the starting eleven.
uefa.com: What is the achievement in your coaching career of which you are most proud?
JI: The fact that I have good friends among players. My players in other teams remain very good friends of mine. I am very proud of this, because it means that the players agree with my way of working, with my philosophy.
uefa.com: It has been said that the only thing that is certain for a coach is that, one day, he will probably lose his job. How can a coach deal with this type of "pressure"?
JI: It is difficult. It is not fair, and working in this situation is very hard.
uefa.com: What are your ambitions for the future?
JI: I am happy with Deportivo, but I would like to touch the top and win the maximum number of titles. It doesn't matter with which team - the thing I want to do is to win titles.
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