The Asian Chronicles: Javier Aguirre

By Benjamín de Buen

The last time I’d sat in front of Javier Aguirre was during a visit to the “Centro Pegaso” where the national team trains in Mexico City (it is no longer named after a mythical creature—the Pegasus—but the venue remains). It was 2001 and Mexico was about to fly to Costa Rica to hang on to dear life in the qualifying round for Korea-Japan 2002. Aguirre had just been hired to save a sinking ship, and despite the dire situation, the nation trusted him.

He was at the beginning of a career that would take him to make Spain’s club Osasuna to meet their potential—he led the club from relegation to the Champions League—and to one of Europe’s hot seats, at Atlético de Madrid. Some years later, when Mexico faced yet another disaster ahead of South Africa 2010, guess who resuscitated the fallen CONCACAF giant, and proved once more his ability to fix what seemed broken beyond repair.

Few human beings have been under as much pressure as Javier Aguirre. Football’s environments watch every movement closely, everything is blown out of proportion; achievements are forgotten while questionable choices are etched in stone.

Javier Aguirre at the Japan vs Jordan pre-match press conference

Javier Aguirre at the Japan vs Jordan pre-match press conference

Fourteen years later, I find myself opposite Aguirre again during a press conference before the Asian Cup match between Japan and Jordan, not the best place to ask him everything I would like to know about his career and his new experience with the Japanese National Team.

Aguirre sat next to goalkeeper, Eiji Kawashima, and a trilingual interpreter. The Samurai Blue coach replied in the friendly Spanish that earned him some sympathy from the Mexican Press, while the interpreter relayed questions and answers from English to Japanese. In training, after the conference, the same interpreter translated the coaching staff’s instructions. From the media tribune, the Japanese practice session sounded much like any Mexican team’s training –

“¡Con el pie! ¡Con el pecho! ¡Con el pie! ¡Con la cabeza!”

The multi-talented interpreter brought down the communication barrier with his skills.

Japan training at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (AAMI Park if you prefer) before the Asian Cup group match against Jordan.

Japan training at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (AAMI Park if you prefer) before the Asian Cup group match against Jordan.

I would have liked to ask Aguirre his impressions regarding Mexico’s disastrous qualifying round for Brasil 2014, a question that would have been irrelevant for an Asian Cup press conference. I would have liked to ask him how he prepared his teams to play against Barcelona’s tiki-taka or Madrid’s Galácticos, what would he say to his players, what would he demand from them… How he managed the dressing room at a team like Atlético?

“Football is the same everywhere. The rules are the same. The tactics are the same,” said Aguirre when comparing his experiences in Mexico and Japan. “The Asian Cup really reminds me of the Gold Cup back in CONCACAF. I’m very happy with how organized it is. I was always happy with Mexico’s National Team and I’m very happy in Japan. Obviously I haven’t been here very long yet, but we are all pulling in the same direction towards our objective, the Asian Cup, and we are on track.”

I knew it wasn’t the occasion for Aguirre to reveal the details that might one day make up an entertaining memoir or biography of his experiences as a coach, one of these books that are more and more common and that allow their protagonist to speak with more freedom about the distant past. For those of us who live on this side of football, on the couch, in the stands, on the sidelines and behind open newspapers, it would be make for great reading.

Japan training at Melbourne. Photo by Ben de Buen

Japan training at Melbourne.
Photo by Ben de Buen