Soccer / J. League

Japan manager Aguirre protests innocence over match-fixing allegations

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

National team manager Javier Aguirre launched an impassioned defense of his integrity as he broke his silence over match-fixing allegations on Saturday.

Aguirre was named as one of 41 defendants in a case filed by Spanish prosecutors on Dec. 15 following an investigation into a 2011 Spanish League match that saw Real Zaragoza — managed by Aguirre at the time — beat Levante 2-1 on the final day of the season to avoid relegation from the first division.

Anti-corruption 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 investigating judge overseeing the case in Valencia must now decide whether to go ahead with the prosecution, but Aguirre vehemently protested his innocence as he faced the press for the first time since the case was filed.

“I worked in Spain for 12 years and I have never done anything unethical or unprofessional,” the 56-year-old said at the JFA’s headquarters in Tokyo. “The only thing you need to win is effort. I don’t give anyone presents and I don’t go looking for any.

“I will cooperate fully with the prosecutors and defend myself until the end. I appreciate the support that the players and the association and my friends and family have given me, and I want to ask the fans to be calm because we will need their help to win the Asian Cup.”

Japan heads to Australia on Jan. 2 to prepare for the defense of its Asian Cup title, with Aguirre — who took over from predecessor Alberto Zaccheroni after this summer’s World Cup — set to oversee the first day of the team’s training camp in Chiba on Monday.

Asked what he would do if the judge accepts the case and preliminary hearings begin while the Jan. 9-31 tournament is under way, Aguirre offered a “100 percent guarantee” that his work would be unaffected.

“The lawyer has told me that I would be called at a time that does not affect my work,” he said. “I am not going to waste even one minute thinking about anything other than winning the Asian Cup.

“I will tell the players exactly what I am telling you now. I am a manager and I am concentrating on the task in hand. I would like you to look at the 39 years of my career. This will not affect my job in the slightest.”

Aguirre has faced calls to resign since the case was filed, with some arguing that the negative publicity is harming Japanese soccer’s image regardless of the veracity of the claims. The case is expected to last several years before a verdict is reached, but Aguirre insists he has no intention of stepping down.

“In all my career, in Mexico, in Spain and in the United States, I have never once quit a job when I am under contract,” he said. “I am a professional. If you speak to the players and the staff at the places I have worked, they will tell you that.

“The players involved in the (Zaragoza-Levante) match are still playing every weekend, and the Zaragoza directors are still doing their jobs. The referee from that match is still blowing his whistle. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to carry on with my job? I am innocent until proven guilty, and I have the right to work.”

Aguirre claimed he was “as surprised as everyone else” to learn of the investigation, and insists he remembers nothing untoward about the match in question.

“It was just the same as any other game I managed,” he said. “I prepared to win and made my substitutions to win. The other team’s goalkeeper made some good saves, but there was nothing he could do about our goals because they were great goals.

“Then we conceded a goal and we had to hold on until the end. Both teams were going for the win, and it was a very close game. I remember it like it was yesterday. Twelve thousand of our fans traveled to Valencia for the game.”