Ivica Osim obituary

Bosnian footballer and coach who won 16 caps playing for Yugoslavia and went on to manage Japan’s national team

The Bosnian footballer and manager Ivica Osim, who has died aged 80, was perhaps most famous for resigning in bitterness as coach of Yugoslavia on the eve of the European Championship finals in 1992, protesting at the Serbian bombardment of his native city, Sarajevo. Declaring that “my country doesn’t deserve to play in the European Championship”, he walked out, never to return.

Osim did not at any point regret the decision, and said at the time that “on the scale of human suffering, I cannot reconcile events at home with my position as national manager”. In any case, Yugoslavia were soon expelled from the finals due to their war-torn status, and their place was taken at the last moment by Denmark, who went on to win the tournament.

Subsequently Osim travelled the world as a manager, having particular success in Austria, where he won two league titles with Sturm Graz, and in Japan, where he eventually took charge of the national team.

Born Ivan, but universally known as Ivica, in Sarajevo, he was the son of Mihail, a railway mechanic, and his wife, Karolina. He began his playing career with his local team, the successful railway club Zeljeznicar, in 1959. He was a tall, elegant and elusive midfielder who was a ruthless dribbler. Within five years of his debut he was showing impressive form for Yugoslavia at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and catching the eye of clubs in other countries.

Yugoslav Federation rules prohibited players from going abroad until their late 20s, so it was not until 1968 that Osim was able to join the Dutch club Zwolsche Boys. There he played only two league games after sustaining a bad knee injury, and he returned to Zeljeznicar the following season before joining Strasbourg in the French league in 1970. After two years with Strasbourg he signed for Sedan, also in the French league, and played 105 league matches from 1972-5 before a move to Valenciennes. He then switched back to Strasbourg for a final couple of years from 1976-78.

For Yugoslavia Osim won 16 caps between 1964 and 1969, and he was in the team that beat the then world champions, England, 1-0 in the semi-finals of the 1968 European Championship in Italy. However, he was injured in that match by a ruthless challenge from Norman Hunter and had to sit on the substitutes’ bench for the final against Italy, which was drawn 1-1, and again in the replay, in which Italy triumphed 2-0.

As soon as he retired from playing with Strasbourg, Osim became coach of Zeljeznicar and in due course took them to the Yugoslav championship in 1971-72 and to a semi-final of the Uefa Cup in 1984-85, which they lost 4-3 over two legs to the Hungarian side Videoton. With the national team he had become assistant coach to Ivan Toplak in conjunction with managing Zeljeznicar, and in 1984 he helped Yugoslavia win bronze at the Olympics.

In 1986 he left Zeljeznicar to take over from Toplak, and under his command Yugoslavia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Italy in 1990, losing on penalties to Argentina. In 1991 he combined his Yugoslavia role with managing Partizan Belgrade, with whom he won the Yugoslav cup in 1992. He guided Yugoslavia into the 1992 European Championship finals, but then resigned in high dudgeon in May 1992 as his family in Sarajevo faced Serbian bombardment in the Bosnian war.

After resigning from the managership of Yugoslavia, soon to disappear as a unified entity, Osim made his way later that year to Greece, where he became manager of the leading Athenian club, Panathinaikos, for two years, twice winning the Greek cup. In 1994 he was on the move again, this time to Austria, taking charge for eight years at Sturm Graz, with whom he twice won the Austrian championship, in 1998 and 1999.

He then went to Japan, where, between 2003 and 2006, he managed the JEF United Chiba club, not one of the richer teams but quite successful under Osim despite its modest means. On the back of his achievements there, in 2006 he was appointed manager of the Japanese national team, where he developed a reputation for subjecting his players to angry tirades, occasionally reducing even his interpreter to tears. For all his acerbic outbursts he was hugely popular in Japan, and when a book of his apothegms, Words of Osim, was published, it sold 400,000 copies.

In November 2007, while watching a league game, Osim collapsed with a stroke. Not until 10 days later did he regain consciousness in the Juntendo University hospital in Urayasu, asking his wife, Asima, “What was the result?” Too ill to continue in management, he relinquished his role with Japan the following month.

Osim is survived by Asima and their three children, Selmir, Amar and Irma.

• Ivica Osim (Ivan Osim), footballer and football manager, born 6 May 1941; died 1 May 2022


Brian Glanville

The GuardianTramp

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