Obituary of Ivica Osim | Football
Bosnian footballer and manager Ivica Osim, who died aged 80, was perhaps best known for resigning in bitterness to coach Yugoslavia on the eve of the European Championship final in 1992 , protesting the Serbian bombardment of his hometown, Sarajevo. Declaring that “my country does not deserve to compete in the European Championship”, he left, never to return.
Osim has not regretted the decision at any time, and said at the time that “on the scale of human suffering, I cannot reconcile events at home with my position as national manager”. Either way, Yugoslavia were quickly expelled from the final due to their war-torn status, and their place was taken at the last moment by Denmark, who won the tournament.
Subsequently, Osim traveled 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, successful railway club Zeljeznicar, in 1959. He was a tall, elegant and elusive midfielder who was a ruthless dribbler. Five years after his debut, he was showing impressive form for Yugoslavia at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and attracting the attention of clubs in other countries.
Yugoslav Federation rules prohibited players from going abroad until their late twenties, so it was not until 1968 that Osim was able to join Dutch club Zwolsche Boys. There he only played two league matches after suffering a serious 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 to 1975 before moving to Valenciennes. He then returned to Strasbourg for the final two years from 1976 to 1978.
For Yugoslavia, Osim earned 16 caps between 1964 and 1969, and he was part of the team that beat then-world champions England 1-0 in the semi-finals of the European Championship 1968 in Italy. However, he was injured in that game 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 the replay, in which Italy triumphed 2-0. .
As soon as he retired from playing with Strasbourg, Osim became Zeljeznicar’s coach and in due course took them to the Yugoslav league in 1971-72 and a UEFA Cup semi-final in 1984-85, which they lost 4-3. over two innings at Hungarian side Videoton. With the national team, he had become an assistant coach to Ivan Toplak together with the management of Zeljeznicar, and in 1984 he helped Yugoslavia win bronze at the Olympics.
In 1986 he left Zeljeznicar to succeed Toplak, and under his leadership Yugoslavia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Italy in 1990, losing on penalties to Argentina. In 1991 he combined his role in Yugoslavia with managing Partizan Belgrade, with whom he won the Yugoslavian Cup in 1992. He guided Yugoslavia to the final of the 1992 European Championship, but then resigned in May 1992 as his family in Sarajevo faced Serb bombardment in the 1992 Bosnian War.
After stepping down as manager of the soon to be defunct Yugoslavia as a unified entity, Osim traveled later that year to Greece, where he became manager of Athens’ main club, Panathinaikos, for two years, winning twice the Greek Cup. In 1994, he returned, this time to Austria, taking care of Sturm Graz for eight years, with whom he won the Austrian championship twice, 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 richest but rather successful teams under Osim despite his modest means. Building on his exploits there, he was appointed coach of the Japanese national team in 2006, where he developed a reputation for subjecting his players to angry tirades, sometimes even making his interpreter cry. Despite all his acerbic outbursts, he was hugely popular in Japan, and when a book of his climaxes, Words of Osim, was published, it sold 400,000 copies.
In November 2007, while watching a league match, Osim collapsed from a stroke. It wasn’t until 10 days later that he regained consciousness at Juntendo University Hospital in Urayasu, asking his wife, Asima, “What was the outcome?” Too ill to continue directing, he quit his post with Japan the following month.
Osim is survived by Asima and their three children, Selmir, Amar and Irma.