“Passion” is the story of Japan soccer team coach Philippe Troussier, his struggle to make it as a player and manager and his travels around France, Africa and Japan. In the book, Troussier also details his philosophy and thinking as he prepares for the World Cup in June.
When I hear the Japanese national anthem, tears well up in my eyes. It is a time of national unity. It is a moment when the history of a people crystalizes itself in a single moment. I feel like I am offering up a moment of silent prayer when I hear the Japanese anthem. As the tune plays, I think of, and pray for, all of the ancestors of this country. I become a member of the Japanese family.
When I hear the national anthems of France, South Africa, Morocco and Burkina Faso, I am overcome with the same emotion. Japan’s “Kimigayo” is a beautiful tune. I’m probably more touched by such emotion because I grew up in an era when we were much closer to war-time symbolism.
My parents experienced that age. We lived in peace as kids, but in the 1960s, we grew up watching our parents work relentlessly to reconstruct our country. It’s an era when self-sacrifice and effort were the core cultural values.
Those who experience tough times learn to appreciate how fortunate they are later in life. I feel fortunate to live in a peaceful era.
My players were born in an era where freedom is taken for granted. They were born in a country where their safety is virtually guaranteed. But I do not see their gratitude. I don’t see respect paid to the generations of people who surrendered their lives to better the lives of future generations. A country’s flag and national anthem do not always symbolize the same thing for everyone, and I understand that, but I want my young players to appreciate that they are able to stand on a lush grass field and eat when they feel hungry.
Before international matches, my players stay in a luxurious hotel, move back and forth on a deluxe bus and have any number of people in attendance. Only a handful of people are prosperous enough to live such a life. I try to look after my players, who can easily forget the privileges they have. For example, I once told a player to clean his own boots. I want my players to know that there are no club teams abroad that pamper their players in such a manner.
The national teams and the J. League teams are surrounded by facilities such as the J. Village in Fukushima that rank alongside the very best. For Japanese players without much overseas experience, they don’t realize how lucky they are here.
During the World Youth Championship, I took my players to an orphanage in Bauchi, an Islamic territory in northern Nigeria. I wanted my players to see what my wife and I had experienced during our time in Africa. For these well-off players, who are all part of the material world, it was a great opportunity to feel and touch the lives of people who are far less fortunate.
Although it was only a matter of a few hours, I urged them to forget the fact that they were star football players. I wanted them to be human beings. At first, the players could not hide their shock at the miserable conditions the orphans lived in. What they saw, in essence, was a reflection of what they were as star football players. It made them question who they really were.
They were used to being celebrities and they had plenty of money, so it was no surprise that they were uncomfortable at first. But after a little while, they began to relax and some held the children in their arms.
We, as human beings, experienced something extraordinary, yet something very simple and fundamental. It was the realization that, whether you’re a Frenchman or Japanese, you don’t need a passport to kiss an underprivileged girl on the cheek, to show your humanity. Before we left the orphanage, the players, children and staff members at the orphanage took a group photo. It is indeed a beautiful picture.
In my view, people are not born as football players we are human beings first and foremost. As a national team coach, I operate under the same philosophy. In our work, I am the coach and they are players. However, as one who takes full responsibility for the team, I, under certain circumstances, decide matters as a person not as a coach.
In October 1998, I had just coached my first game for the Japanese side. On game day, Teruyoshi Ito’s mother died at the young age of 49. After discussions with my staff, I decided to release Ito from the team, called his club Shimizu S-Pulse, and notified them of my decision.
In the post-game news conference, I explained that a football game cannot be put on the same level as a death in the family. At that, I stood up to leave the room. Many people were taken aback by my reaction, but I do not regret it one bit. If a similar thing happened today, I would not hesitate to do the same again.
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