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Aguirre confirmed as Japan’s next manager

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

The Japan Football Association on Thursday officially named Mexican Javier Aguirre as Japan’s new national team manager.

Aguirre, who has twice led Mexico at the World Cup and has managed several club teams in Spain and his native country, succeeds Alberto Zaccheroni after the Italian stepped down following Japan’s first-round exit at the World Cup in Brazil last month.

The 55-year-old Aguirre, who JFA technical director Hiromi Hara described as “a gentleman,” is scheduled to arrive in Japan around the middle of next month and will take charge of Japan’s friendlies against Uruguay in Sapporo on Sep. 5 and Venezuela in Yokohama four days later.

Hara would not reveal the details of Aguirre’s contract, but local media have reported that he will be handed an initial two-year deal with an option to extend to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, on an estimated salary of $2.45 million a year.

“He has a lot of experience,” Hara said of Aguirre, who is known as “El Vasco” in Mexico due to his Basque roots. “He knows how to win and that’s exactly what we want to raise the level of our team.

“I want him to help us become the kind of team that can stand firm even when we’re playing badly or we’re up against a strong opponent.”

Aguirre took Mexico to the last 16 of the World Cup in both 2002 and 2010, and has managed in the Champions League with Spanish heavyweights Atletico Madrid. Aguirre’s last job was with Spanish team Espanyol, which he led to a 14th-pace finish in La Liga last season.

Aguirre will be joined by English coach Stuart Gelling, who has worked with Liverpool’s academy, goalkeeping coach Ricardo Lopez, a former Spain international, and Spanish physical coach Juan Iribarren Morras. Japan’s Olympic team manager, Makoto Teguramori, will also be part of Aguirre’s coaching staff.

Aguirre becomes Japan’s seventh foreign manager and the first from Mexico. Despite having never worked outside a Spanish-speaking country, Hara is convinced of his credentials.

“I don’t for one minute think a Japanese manager couldn’t do the job,” said Hara. “But we have a lot of players playing abroad and we felt a manager with experience of that environment could advise them well.

“Of course he will watch the J. League as well. We wanted someone with experience of European or South American football, and he also has international experience and experience of the World Cup.”

Aguirre represented his country as a player at the 1986 World Cup on home soil, where he started each of Mexico’s five games but was sent off in the quarterfinal defeat to West Germany.

Aguirre also worked as a commentator for Mexican TV at last month’s World Cup in Brazil, giving him the perfect opportunity to watch his future team at close range. Defeats to Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia and a goalless draw with Greece will hardly have conveyed the best first impression, but Hara believes Aguirre was not overly concerned by what he saw.

“He was expecting more from them,” Hara said. “He understands that teams don’t always give a good account of themselves on the big stage, and he says that the team has potential. He knows that the team is capable of doing more than it showed.

“But he didn’t talk too much about it. He’s just looking forward to the job and he can’t wait to get started.”