Tokyo (AFP) – More than two weeks after he was unceremoniously fired as Japan’s national football coach, Vahid Halilhodzic says he is still in “shock” and weighing legal action.
“Even in my worst nightmares I couldn’t have imagined that one day something like this could happen,” he told AFP in Tokyo.
With just two months to go until the World Cup, the sacked coach says he thought it was a “joke” when the Japanese Football Association told him about the decision in early April.
“I was beyond shocked, afterwards I was replaying it all in my head like a film,” he said.
The JFA announced the shock firing on April 9, describing it as an “emergency measure”.
Halilhodzic had been haunted by reports that he could be ousted for months, with rumours of discord with the team and discontent over a string of poor performances by Japan in the run-up to the World Cup.
But he insisted Thursday that he was blindsided by the decision.
“No one ever warned me that there was… danger” of being sacked, he said, describing the shock public firing as “a humiliation” and the “toughest” moment of his career.
He found the turn of events all the more astonishing given Japan’s famous sense of decorum.
“Respect, it’s the core of the society,” he said.
He denied any communication problems with players, despite reports that his abrasive style had created problems of team cohesion.
That was among the reasons cited by JFA president Kozo Tashima when he announced the firing, along with the national team’s embarrassing recent performances, including a draw with Mali and a loss to Ukraine.
Halilhodzic, who was appointed in March 2015, said he believed he had carried out his mission by successfully carrying the Blue Samurai through to the World Cup finals in Russia.
He said he had observed plenty of support from the Japanese public, and railed against the JFA.
“I got the team qualified, and now they stop me from trying for something bigger,” he said, still visibly shaken by the situation.
The experience isn’t entirely unfamiliar for the Franco-Bosnian, who was fired by the Ivory Coast just months before the team played in the 2010 World Cup.
But he broke into expletives as he said he was back in Tokyo, having been in Paris when he was fired, seeking answers.
“I need a response. I deserve explanations,” he said.
“I don’t want to leave the country as a mess, an incompetent,” added Halilhodzic, who said he was hoping for a response from the JFA after a press conference scheduled for Friday.
He said he wanted details on where he had gone wrong with the players, and that if none were forthcoming, he would consider “other procedures”, including legal action.
The JFA has named respected veteran Akira Nishino to succeed Halilhodzic, but the ousted coach said the brief would be tough.
Changing coaches “two months before the World Cup, that makes no sense! It takes experience,” he said.
Japan face a tough group in June, with matches against Colombia and Senegal before they face Poland.
It will be the sixth successive World Cup appearance by the Blue Samurai, who made it to the last 16 in 2002 when Japan co-hosted the tournament with South Korea, and again in 2010.