Soccer | SOCCER SCENE

Fallout from Aguirre affair likely to have limited reach at JFA

by Andrew McKirdy

The hiring and firing of Javier Aguirre has left the Japan Football Association with a severe bloody nose, but it remains to be seen if anyone at the governing body will pay for it.

The JFA pulled the plug on Aguirre’s time as national team manager last Tuesday after a match-fixing case naming the Mexican as a defendant was accepted by a Spanish court. JFA president Kuniya Daini reasoned that the risk of the case having a negative impact on Japan’s 2018 World Cup qualifiers was too great to ignore, and sent Aguirre on his way after only six months and 10 games in charge.

Aguirre’s dismissal met with few dissenting voices, but the JFA’s handling of the whole affair came in for ferocious criticism.

“It has to be said that the JFA’s decision to fire Aguirre came too late,” ran an editorial in the following day’s Nikkan Sports. “The match-fixing allegations were reported in Spain in September, but the JFA held no clear investigation and waited until the end of December before sending someone over there to find out what was going on.

“Their slow response has set the development of the national team back and damaged the image of Japanese soccer.”

Daini and secretary-general Hiromi Hara came under particular fire after Spanish prosecutors filed the case on Dec. 15, with both men accused of dragging their feet instead of taking decisive action.

Hara waited three days to confirm that Aguirre would continue in the job at a press conference following a JFA executive meeting, while Daini broke his silence on the matter later that evening at a futsal match.

Hara and Daini both repeatedly insisted that there was no need to respond until the case had been accepted, but meanwhile the storm surrounding Aguirre only grew bigger as the Asian Cup thrust him center stage and allegations of money laundering surfaced.

“President Daini said that the reason for sacking Aguirre was to avoid the risk of affecting the World Cup qualifiers starting in June, but that risk was already there from when the case was filed in the middle of December,” continued the editorial in last week’s Nikkan Sports.

“You can say that the risk is greater if the case is accepted. But if the situation is ‘he’s presumed innocent but there’s a risk,’ then it makes no difference. And if that’s the case, the decision should have been taken earlier.”

A JFA statement explaining Aguirre’s dismissal last week said that “disciplinary measures” would be discussed at the next executive meeting, due to take place on Thursday.

That opens up the possibility of the three men most responsible for Aguirre’s appointment — Daini, Hara and current technical director Masahiro Shimoda — paying the price for the whole affair, but events since then suggest otherwise.

Shimoda has already picked up the baton in the hunt for Aguirre’s successor, and was reportedly given “unanimous backing” and “thunderous applause” from representatives of all 40 J. League clubs at JFA headquarters last week.

Appetite for change is clearly not as strong within the corridors of power as it is in the media, and it would not take much to imagine “disciplinary measures” amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist for the men responsible.

Ultimately, the only person taking the fall for Aguirre’s appointment could be Aguirre himself.