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JFA fires embattled manager Aguirre

by

Staff Writer

Javier Aguirre was fired as Japan’s national team manager on Tuesday after a match-fixing case naming him as a defendant was accepted by a Spanish court.

The Japan Football Association dismissed Aguirre, who had only been in the job since August, after judging that the investigation — which is expected to last several years — would have a negative impact on Japan’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers starting in June.

Aguirre is one of 41 defendants in a case stemming from a 2011 Spanish League match that saw Real Zaragoza — at the time managed by Aguirre — beat Levante 2-1 on the final day of the season to avoid relegation from the first division.

Prosecutors allege that Zaragoza made bank transfers to its own players and officials, who then withdrew the money, totaling $1.2 million, and gave it to Levante’s players as payment to throw the match.

The case is expected to begin in Valencia, Spain, later this month having been accepted on Friday, with the JFA receiving confirmation late Monday night.

JFA president Kuniya Daini told reporters that the shadow it would cast over the team left the governing body with no choice but to take action.

“We learned last night that the case involving Aguirre has been accepted,” Daini told reporters at the JFA’s headquarters in Tokyo. “We were praying that this would not be the case, so we are very disappointed. But the most important thing for us to think about is the impact it would have on the national team.

“Our qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia begin in June, and the investigation involving Aguirre will start now and could then lead to prosecution. We don’t want to risk it having an impact on the qualifiers, and with this in mind, Aguirre’s contract has been terminated.”

Aguirre took over from Italian Alberto Zaccheroni after last summer’s World Cup and led defending champion Japan to the Asian Cup in Australia last month, where it was upset in the quarterfinals by the United Arab Emirates.

Daini stressed that results played no part in Aguirre’s dismissal, and expressed regret that his tenure was over after only 10 games.

“Aguirre had been doing very well in charge of the team, and if the case had not been accepted then there would have been no problem,” said Daini, who also stated that the two parties had not discussed compensation on Aguirre’s two-year contract. “That is the reason this is happening now.

“When he came back from Australia I told him that if the case was accepted it would be difficult for him to continue, and he understood that.”

Aguirre, who is currently on holiday on Spain, thanked the players and fans in a statement.

“I am fortunate to have worked in Japan,” Aguirre said in the statement. “I appreciate the support of the fans. I wish the Japan national team all the best in the future.”

Japan plays friendlies against Tunisia and Uzbekistan next month before beginning its 2018 World Cup qualifiers against as-yet unnamed opponents in June.

Aguirre’s replacement will be chosen by the JFA’s technical committee, although it remains to be seen whether current technical director Masahiro Shimoda will lead the search. The JFA said in a statement that it would be “discussing disciplinary measures” at its next executive meeting, and Shimoda may pay the price for his role in Aguirre’s appointment.

“He was a very good manager and I’m disappointed that this is the outcome,” said Shimoda, who along with predecessor Hiromi Hara was responsible for hiring the Mexican. “I didn’t think it would come to this. We had collected a lot of information on him by the time he signed the contract and I didn’t think this would happen. I’m very surprised.

“We have to make sure that this kind of accident doesn’t happen again. We don’t have much time to choose a new manager as we have games coming up in March. In order to create a good team we need to choose a good manager.”

Shimoda ruled out selecting a manager currently under contract with a J. League club, and stressed that the technical committee has yet to draw up a list of candidates.

Hara, now the JFA’s secretary-general, also expressed regret at the way events had unfolded after initially sounding out Aguirre to take over after the 2010 World Cup.

“We couldn’t let this drag on,” said Hara, who described Aguirre as a “gentleman” when he unveiled him as Zaccheroni’s successor. “It could have gone on for two years and that would not have been good for the players or the fans.

“It’s the first time a case like this has taken place in Spain, so it’s very difficult to say how it will unfold. It’s impossible to predict. We had to eliminate the risk.”