JFA confirms Halilhodzic as new national team manager


Staff Writer

The Japan Football Association officially named Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic as Japan’s new national team manager on Thursday.

The 62-year-old, who led Algeria to the last 16 of last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, succeeds Mexican Javier Aguirre, who was fired in February after a match-fixing case naming him as a defendant was accepted by a Spanish court.

Halilhodzic has worked for various clubs and national teams — mainly in France and Africa — over an 18-year managerial career, winning the French Cup with Paris Saint-Germain in 2004 and leading both Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria to World Cup qualification.

Halilhodzic is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Friday, and JFA technical director Masahiro Shimoda confirmed that the new man has received his working visa and will lead the team in friendlies against Tunisia and Uzbekistan on March 27 and 31, respectively.

“We collected information on a lot of managers, but when we considered results and experience and then met them in person, Halilhodzic was the first person we wanted to negotiate with,” said Shimoda, who led the JFA’s search.

“He turned down offers from big clubs to take the Japan national team job. He is very motivated and hungry to take on this new project with Japan.”

Halilhodzic is known as a strict disciplinarian who expects his players to meet his high standards, and Shimoda believes his methods will work well with the Japanese team.

“He’s a very serious, demanding manager who never cuts corners,” said Shimoda. “Our analysis is that Japanese players are even more receptive to that kind of approach than African players. He doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to winning.

“He knows enough about the Japanese players in Europe already — we don’t have to tell him anything there. If he can use the strong points and correct the weak points of the Japanese players then we can raise our standing in world football. Japanese players are very diligent and team-oriented, and he has those strengths in mind for the team.”

Halilhodzic, who also holds a French passport, arrives with French coach Jacky Bonnevay and physical coach Cyril Moine, while Spanish goalkeeping coach Ricardo has been retained from Aguirre’s staff.

Shimoda refused to disclose details of Halilhodzic’s contract, but denied reports that Bosnian former Japan manager Ivica Osim had played a part in his compatriot’s appointment.

“I saw reports that Halilhodzic had been put forward by Osim, but I didn’t have any special discussions with him,” said Shimoda. “I wanted to meet Osim but I wasn’t able to.

“I didn’t want to meet him so that he could recommend the next manager — I just wanted to ask his opinion of the national team from the outside. I went to speak to him on general terms but unfortunately I couldn’t meet him.”

The JFA was determined to have Aguirre’s replacement in place for this month’s friendlies in Oita and Tokyo, giving the new man time to bed in before the World Cup qualifiers begin in June.

The JFA is trying to right the ship after having its fingers badly burned by the Aguirre affair, which saw the governing body fire the Mexican after judging that the match-fixing investigation would have a negative effect on the national team.

JFA president Kuniya Daini took a voluntary three-month, 50 percent pay cut and Shimoda and secretary-general Hiromi Hara took 30 percent voluntary cuts despite the JFA executive committee exonerating all three of any blame, with Shimoda even offering his resignation until Daini persuaded him to stay on.

“When Aguirre was fired, it’s true that I told my feelings to the president,” said Shimoda. “But we had the March friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers in June, and the national team doesn’t stop. It was my responsibility to find a new manager and I had to fulfill that.

“Now Halilhodzic is coming here for a new project, and it’s up to me to provide him with support.”