Its official: Philippe Troussier is not running a circus. The Japan coach was, in tabloid-speak, “gobsmacked” last Wednesday when he was quizzed about his team selection moments after Japan had defeated Yugoslavia 1-0 to win the Kirin Cup.
Asked why he had left Paraguay-based Nozomi Hiroyama on the bench for Japan’s two games, Troussier shrugged: “Because this is not a circus. What do you want to see next? An elephant? A tiger?”
At least the Frenchman stopped short of calling Hiroyama a “donkey.”
Of course, Troussier’s feelings about the Japanese media are no secret. He believes, not unreasonably, that some sections of the domestic press are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
No matter how many times he explains his views on team selection, the Japan captaincy or the flat back three, some bright spark will inevitably ask the same question.
Then, when Troussier says something along the lines of “Have you been living under a rock?” they roll their eyes and make jokes about the French (which is something you would never catch me doing of course).
As a result, a Troussier press conference or post-match interview can sometimes be as painful as having teeth pulled.
After Japan’s victory over Yugoslavia in Oita, one anorak (a dull, narrow-minded person — ed.) persisted with the Hiroyama line of questioning. The exchange went as follows:
Reporter: “Why didn’t you play Hiroyama?”
Troussier: “The same reason I didn’t play Kazu (Miura, who was not even in the squad).”
Reporter: “Which is?”
Troussier: “I’m trying to win a tournament here, not organize a circus.”
Reporter: “So Hiroyama won’t make the World Cup squad?”
Troussier: “He might. But so might (Hiroshi) Nanami, (Shunsuke) Nakamura and (Yuji) Nakazawa, which could put a dampener on it for him.”
Let’s just recap here. Japan completely outclassed Paraguay in a 2-0 win in Sapporo and, when Troussier decides to stick with the same starting lineup for the Yugoslavia game, all hell breaks loose. Maybe there’s something in the water in Kyushu.
Thankfully, Troussier hasn’t developed the same siege mentality that marked the end of Kevin Keegan’s tenure as England manager.
Then again, Troussier has just led Japan to the final of the Confederations Cup and a second straight Kirin Cup success. Keegan would have struggled to organize a bun fight in a bakery.
“Now I can relax for a week without the papers trying to get me the sack and without the Japan Football Association writing nasty reports about me,” Troussier joked as a JFA official shuffled nervously behind him.
With the World Cup in Japan and South Korea less than a year away, Troussier said last week that he is 80-90 percent sure of his squad.
However, Kashima Antlers striker Atsushi Yanagisawa is already thinking in terms of a place in the first XI after giving Troussier a timely reminder of his talents during the Kirin Cup.
Yanagisawa marked his return to the Japan side with two superbly taken goals against Paraguay and then scared the Yugoslav defense to death with his pace and clever movement off the ball in Oita.
Another player who sent a message at the Kirin Cup was Junichi Inamoto, whose first-half winner against Yugoslavia had “Come and get me, Arsenal” written all over it.
Troussier confirmed after the match that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had told him he was interested in signing the 21-year-old Gamba Osaka midfielder.
When I asked Inamoto if his first goal in 22 internationals was a present for Arsenal, he said: “That’s a pretty direct question, isn’t it? I haven’t spoken to Arsenal directly, but I’ll talk to my agent and take it from there.”
Inamoto clearly didn’t hang around because two days later Wenger told reporters in London: “We are close to signing Inamoto.” Which will mean more Arsenal games on Japanese television next season, good news for insomniacs everywhere.
Meanwhile, Hidetoshi Nakata’s $26 million move from AS Roma to Parma can only be good news for Troussier as Japan’s top player can expect a place in the starting XI for his new club after playing second fiddle to Francesco Totti last season.
I would pay good money to see Nakata and Totti going for a 50-50 ball next season.
With Feyenoord set to formally announce the signing of Shinji Ono from Urawa Reds, Japan could have three internationals playing in Europe in the 2001-02 campaign.
So how did Sapporo and Oita shape up as venues for the World Cup? Sapporo Dome would benefit from a North Korean missile strike in my humble opinion. If I want to watch a baseball game (and I think I’d rather watch my plants photosynthesize), I’ll go to the Tokyo Dome.
That’s what it felt like sitting inside the Sapporo Dome, half a mile away from the pitch, with the sun shining on a beautiful day outside. Whoever designed it should be shot.
Oita Big Eye Stadium, on the other hand, is a corker, even if it feels as though you are being slowly cooked in a giant oven because of the heat in Kyushu at this time of year.
One thought did occur to me, though. It was the same thought that occurred to me in Miyagi at last year’s Kirin Cup. What if Cameroon and the Czech Republic are scheduled to play a first-round game in Oita at the World Cup?
Ever seen “Planes, Trains and Automobiles?” Imagine that, with the odd hovercraft thrown into the title and you’ve got Oita. Nice stadium, but a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
Nothing keeps the “Ultra Nippon” supporters away from a Japan game, however, and after the match in Oita they even threw a party in a bar in the center of town, which, naturally, I gate-crashed.
Unfortunately, despite the presence of Japan players Naoki Matsuda and Koji Nakata, too many video clips of Masashi Nakayama and too much testosterone in the room ruined it for me, even if the Run DMC soundtrack was “ill.”
Almost as ill as I was, as I slunk off to a quiet little bar with some fellow reporters at 3 a.m., only to find Japan reserve goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki sipping cocktails with two girls on the table next to us.
Troussier once said that, even if he offered to supply women on tap for the Japan players, they would still prefer to play video games in their hotel rooms than get up to any hanky-panky.
You could have fooled me.