Japan today broke the news that they have parted company or in layman’s terms sacked their manager, Vahid Halilhodžić who had been in charge of the side since March 2015. The news comes as a big surprise as the World Cup is only 2 months with Japan in the middle of preparing for the finals.
According to media outlets that broke the news, the decision to sack Halilhodžić was down to poor friendly results, but when has any manager ever been fired because of poor friendly results? It is almost taken for granted that the teams who have qualified for the World Cup will experiment with squad and tactics before the start of the tournament while having a look at some current in form players.
The two games in question that seem to have booted Halilhodžić over the edge were two friendly games played in Europe against Mali and Ukraine. The general consensus looks to be that these teams have not qualified for the World Cup and the results against them were poor, but this does not take into account that qualifying through Asia is a lot easier than qualifying through Europe or Africa. That means a lot of talented sides didn’t make it to the World Cup finals from the European and African regions.
Even though the Asian qualifying region is considerably easier than Europe and Africa, Halilhodžić didn’t have any major hiccups, there was a 0-0 home draw against Singapore which was disappointing but didn’t alter their route to finals. During the first round group, they lost none and only drew that home game with Singapore. The second group in Asian qualifying is always slightly trickier but they navigated it fairly comfortably only losing two games and drawing two games, again topping the group that contained Saudi Arabia, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand.
Japanese Football Association technical director Akira Nishino has been appointed to lead Japan at the World Cup, the contract he has for the role lasts only until after the World Cup. “There is always a risk when you change managers,” JFA President Kozo Tashima told reporters at a packed news conference in Tokyo, he went on and stated that a lack of “communication and trust” with the players were the reasons behind the dismissal.
Nishino in his role as technical director was, therefore, Halilhodžić’s boss, and with JFA president Kozo Tashima mentioning that communication and a lack of trust were major issues alludes to problems that likely point to Halilhodžić and Nishino not being capable of working together. From the JFA president’s comments, there has most certainly been behind the scenes posturing and politics at play, which can never be a good thing for a nation going into a World Cup. It also sounded like they weren’t happy with Halilhodžić not playing the ‘Japanese’ way of passing the ball around a lot.
Kozo Tashima also said, “There is also a risk when you don’t change managers,” he said. “If it was guaranteed that just by changing managers you would magically make the team better, we would do that. But we have considered all the risks and listened to all points of view.”
“Even if it increases our chances of winning at the World Cup by only one or two percent, we had to act,” said Tashima. “We only have two months left until the World Cup, so the new manager had to come from within the organization. Nishino has seen the team more than anyone else and he will be our new manager. We chose Nishino because of the timing. If we had done this earlier, we might not have chosen Nishino. But with only two months left, in this situation, we came to this decision.”
“Of course each manager will have a way that he wants his team to play, and he will explain that on Thursday,” said Tashima. “But it will likely be a style of football that is Japanese. That means keeping hold of the ball and passing it around.”
Japanese fans will be hoping that the JFA president has made the correct decision with it paying off and Japan getting out of their group in Russia. Japan begin their World Cup campaign against Colombia in Saransk on June 19, before taking on Senegal in Yekaterinburg on June 24 and Poland in Volgograd on June 28.